Promoting Norwegian Seafood in Asia

Norwegian seafood is on a global rollercoaster ride and where in particular salmon aquaculture has seen massive growth of the industry over many years.

To Singapore Norwegian seafood is well known, at least partly thanks to the much-publicised and popular annual Norwegian Seafood Dinner.

But not only in Singapore and Europe is Norway synonymous with seafood – Salmon from Norway is equivalent to Sweden’s IKEA, according to Christian Chramer. From a military background to the Norwegian Seafood Council’s (NSC) he is since 2011 Norway’s seafood frontman in South-East Asia.

“If you travel to China and meet an individual and this person has by chance heard of Norway, surely he will either mention Ibsen (who is big in China) or Norwegian salmon. Or in countries like France, Japan or Spain – in larger parts of the word Norwegian salmon will be a very strong brand and also seen as top-of-the-line quality, and a fish you can find in top restaurants.”

SalmonThird largest export for Norway
Seafood’s role is indeed very important for the Scandinavian coastal country.

“We exported seafood from Norway for 53 billion Norwegian kronor last year. It’s our third largest export industry and going all the way from the far north of Norway to the southern coast.”

The latest figures from NSC for October show that Norwegian seafood exports totalled NOK 5.5 billion of which salmon enjoyed strong exports in October, up by 21% compared to the same month last year.  Part of the explanation is that salmon is increasingly being consumed in European homes.

As public owned by Norway’s Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, NSC (Norges sjømatråd) plays a significant role for this industry’s various stakeholders. It is financed by the Norwegian Seafood industry through fees levied on all exports of Norwegian Seafood. So stakeholder interest is of utmost importance.

”I’m talking on behalf of all seafood exporters from Norway, and there are more than 550 of them – some multi billion dollar corporations, some small family-owned companies,” says Christian who is also Communications Director for NSC and divides his time between the two countries.

“One of the ways we involve with our stakeholders is through the board of directors, dominated by people from the industry.  Under that there are six advisory groups that are industry actors under each category. These ask me critical questions on what we’ve been doing, what we are currently seeing, how we can develop the market further, what’s our best take on the market, what can spoil the fun etc. Comparing with the ideas and plans of the different seafood producers we try to match with our concepts that we think we can build in the region.”

Strategy for Southeast-Asia
NSC mainly does three things: communication, market research/info, (and also giving advice to the Norwegian government on free trade agreements in the seafood sector) and marketing.

The marketing work carried out by NSC is aimed at further increasing demand for Norwegian Seafood and market information is shared with the Norwegian Seafood industry, the Norwegian authorities and NSC’s own organization in order to provide a good, reliable decision-making basis.

It continually monitors trends and developments in global seafood sales in general but with a special focus on Norwegian Seafood.

South-East Asia (SEA) not being the biggest region for seafood from Norway, has been a part time position, but since it was turned into full time Christian has followed up on the Asian market and developed a strategy for 2013 and the years to come and given advice on how to govern.

“NSC recently decided to increase the budget for 2013 from 2 million in 2012 to a total of 7 million NOK for market development for Norwegian Seafood in South-East Asia.”

Christian will remain as the regional director for NSC in SEA until the summer of 2014.

In his research to come up with the strategy for the coming years he also conducted meetings with large salmon producers – both here when they come to visit the market and back in Norway – to check if his thinking was right.

“They are really important for us and of course I like to meet them. That’s a very important part of the stakeholder involvement that we have.”

Likewise, some of these producers that perform own research – if they are interested enough in a market – want to consult NSC.

“I see often that they use our data to compare with their own to see if their input is correct, maybe to turn it into a more complete puzzle.”

The research typically involves mapping purchasing managers at retail source, importers, industry actors, Norwegian businesses and government institutions in countries that are key for the future development of seafood export. NSC researches consumer data as well, including preferred seafood type and country of origin.

Christian_NSCSingapore is special
When here, Christian also travels a lot within Asia, being very happy with the attractive posting in Singapore.

“It’s a fantastic place to be – for many reasons. In many ways it’s a hub – and very important for the food service sector. The tourism role in Singapore, with 13 million tourists coming into Singapore every year, of course gives this market a special flavour when it comes to how the food service sector is developing. So this is very much a showcase for how things can be developed in different markets in the future. That could be Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta or Taipei.

He sees the assignment as a door opener to understanding greater Asia and, combined with the information he can get from colleagues in China and Japan, trying to build the most precise possible picture of the Asian market in the future.

“We see possible strong growth throughout the region. And if that’s going to happen an even stronger logistical systems will have to be developed because you need to bring chilled seafood all the way from Norway. But we believe it will come.”

“Singapore is special because here you have a strong food service sector, estimated to take up 70 per cent of the salmon coming to Singapore from Norway.”

“You have a tremendous growth in both fine dining, Japanese sushi and sashimi restaurants, international cuisine being very strong here and also you see an influx from Singapore in the whole region when it comes to trends and also the way people work in professional kitchens. We see Singapore as a very important educational platform – there are many strong chef schools in Singapore that educate for the whole region. So by working with young chefs we create seafood and salmon ambassadors for Norway for generations to come!”

Norwegian Salmon exports to Asia show steady growth. The volume in October topped 12,000 tonnes of which 5000 tons were sold to Singapore.

Working on different interest groups and companies, marketing research is the most important thing NSC can do in Singapore, according to Christian; helping those to understand more how salmon can be a category within seafood as a whole and pushing salmon even higher up on the ladder. That translates into working deeply together with major retailers like Cold Storage on promotions, PR, marketing and other activities to build the sales and long-term commitment to the consumers.

“Mainly as fresh – that’s the segment where we can make a difference and supply the market where our competitors will have trouble doing the same.”

Sushi and sashimi is also a strong trend in this region, just as throughout the world, where red salmon is often served.

Search for perfection
With a background as officer and information officer in the military he sees more similarities than differences compared with NSC.

“Especially the professional mind-set of people involved in the seafood industry. I’m very proud of it and very much see the things I saw in the army: the search for perfection and always wanting to do your very best.”

“And seafood is so important to Norway as a country and Norwegians as a whole. I feel seafood is gaining attention in many areas of Norway’s public life and that my colleagues in the company and the people of the industry are really focusing on producing the best possible seafood for the large world community.”

“We sell seafood to 150 different countries so we provide food to enormous amounts of people, which must be safe, healthy and fresh in many instances. And it must be made in the way people would like to have it and available when people would like to consume.”

Social media and CSR are also among Christian’s professional interests. NSC effectively uses social media for, among other things, corporate communication (recently blogg.seafood.no was also launched) and issues management (it has been the driver in their internal, online Crisis wiki that allows communication in real time in one shared workspace across their 14 global locations.)

Sustainability efforts
CSR along with sustainability are highly relevant and huge topics for this industry.

“As the world leader both in standards, technology and volume it should not be surprising that aquaculture in Norway is followed closely by both media, consumers and NGO’s/ENGO’s. In my opinion we address this in the way critical questions are best addressed: By openness, transparency and dialogue,” comments Christian.

He says that NSC enjoys a very good and open dialogue with WWF Norway and other ENGO’s such as Bellona.

“We have an on-going cooperation with WWF to meet on a regular basis to discuss any critical questions and to see how we can work harder to promote sustainable seafood and what we can do as in industry player. I sincerely believe that we are doing a fair share on that and will be doing even more in the future.”

“Norwegian seafood farming practices and status is very transparent with data on undesirables, use of antibiotics, escapes from sea farms etc. available to the all online.”

Escapes from sea farms where down to 30 000 in 2012, which is the lowest figure ever compared to a peak of 921 000 in 2006.

Salmon lice and escapes are key environmental challenges, concerning issues of genetics, ecology and the risk of spreading disease, which has a negative impact on the industry’s image, according to the Norwegian Ministry Of Fisheries And Costal Affairs.

There is a large degree of agreement in research environments that substantial and persistent interbreeding with escaped, migrant, farmed salmon is detrimental to wild salmon, it writes.

Good environmental conditions a precondition
Its ‘Strategy for an Environmentally Sustainable Norwegian Aquaculture Industry’ shows that Norway is taking these issues very seriously. This strategy forms the plan for many actions being taken, and future goals.

In 2004, Norway became the first country in the world to introduce a scheme laying down requirements and a technical standard for aquaculture (NYTEK) to ensure farming conducted on environmentally responsible lines.

Furthermore, in 2007 Norway decided to set up of a total of 52 national salmon watercourses and 29 national salmon fjords, with stricter regimes for aquaculture to be applied for the sake of the wild salmon. Such areas enjoy special protection under the Aquaculture Act.

The greatest potential for growth is in the farming of salmon, cod and shellfish and where eco-friendly, sustainable production is a precondition for long-term development and growth, according to the ministry. It also points to a self-interest form the fish farmers in maintaining good water quality and avoiding any negative impact on their surroundings: The aquaculture industry depends on good environmental conditions and water quality.

Norway has depended on a combination of strict health regulations, close safety monitoring and continuous work to develop the industry, writes NSC.

While in the past, there were concerns about aquaculture’s impact on the environment advancements have eliminated many of those objections. For example, every farm must be licensed and operated in an environmentally appropriate location.

Also, use of antibiotics is no longer an issue whereas 15 years ago it was widespread, according to Christian.

“It is something that sticks to the industry as a perception of salmon. We give all the small juvenile fishes a vaccine against all the known diseases that it can catch throughout the life cycle.”

“The volumes have grown substantially at the same time as the use of antibiotics are reduced by 99 % from the levels of 1987,” Christian comments the latest figure (a total of 905 kilos) from the Norwegian veterinarian institute.

Certification and green concessions
Fish feed and fish stocks are of utmost importance for sustainable production; to ensure seafood nutritionally suitable as human food and to protect fish stocks (ensuring that fishmeal and fish oil used in the production of fish feed come from sustainably-managed stocks.)

“There’s no doubt that no other protein sources that can be produced as effectively as seafood from aqua culture,” Christian also highlights.

The continued success of the Norwegian seafood industry is dependent on meeting and exceeding international food-safety demands. So Norway also has the highest number of third party eco certifications via KRAV, Friends of The Sea, Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) etc.

The MSC runs a programme, working with partners to transform the world’s seafood markets and promote sustainable fishing practices.

“We have to be present on many different arenas but we are very strong on eco certification and I really believe that it is part of the positioning that we will see for seafood from Norway,” says Christian.

Global standards for aquaculture are also in the pipeline where Norwegian companies have been closely involved in the process.

For organic salmon production there are already several companies in Norway selling organic labelled fish.

Norway’s government has recently also proposed the allocation of 45 new green salmon concessions in 2013 of which 35 means switching to the new green version.

This is a very positive signal about continuous development in the right direction regarding the production of the world’s best seafood products under the strictest aquaculture legislation in the world,” comments Christian.

Text: Joakim Persson

Photos: Joakim Persson

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