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UK fish processors to rely on Norwegian imports

By Freddie Dawson, 27-Jan-2012

Related topics: Ingredients, Seafood, Meat, fish and savoury ingredients

Demand from UK processors for frozen fish from Norway is expected to grow significantly, fuelled by lower prices and consumers’ preference for frozen product, according to industry experts.

UK imports of Norwegian white fish – mainly frozen haddock and cod – grew from 35,515t in 2010 to 39,072t in 2011, said a spokeswoman for the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC).

The growth stems from the fact that Norwegian whitefish represented better value for money for UK processors last year compared with whitefish supplied by countries such as Iceland, said Jon Harman, operations director at Seafish, the levy-paying body supporting the UK seafood industry.

From fresh to frozen

But consumers have also started to switch from fresh fish to frozen, which accounts for the vast majority of imports from Norway. Some frozen seafood categories have grown by as much as 9% over the past year, Harman added.

We have been seeing much more growth in frozen fish compared with chilled for a few years now,” said Brian Young, director general of the British Frozen Food Federation. “The same is true over a number of proteins. Consumers are looking for better value and the ability to reduce waste.”

Last year, the NSC saw an increase in sales of frozen cod fillets blocks from Norway to the UK. Norway is now looking to take greater advantage of the higher quality, frozen-at-sea market. Fish processed and frozen within four hours of being caught, said a NSC spokeswoman.

Imports of frozen-at-sea fillets into the UK from all countries increased by 14% last year.

Norway has the potential to catch high volumes in order to take advantage of demand growth.

Consumer demands

Although Scotland dominates fresh fish sales within the UK because of its proximity to the market, it does not land enough white fish to meet UK consumer demands, said Libby Woodhatch, chief executive of Seafood Scotland.

The UK imports 75% to 80% of its seafood, while exporting 66% of its annual catch. The disparity arises from UK consumers’ preference for non-locally caught fish, added Harman.

So rising Norwegian imports are not expected to threaten the livelihood of UK fishermen, said Harman and Woodhatch.

Norway has long enjoyed a significant share of UK fish imports. While the two countries share common export markets, they concentrate on different products, said Woodhatch. For example, Scotland’s main export is langoustines.