'It is truly fish's time' Young's chief on the £1b opportunity

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 19 Mar 2019

AN £8 billion industry - where many see headroom for growth built on health and great taste. David Laister reports from Grimsby’s leading role at North Atlantic Seafood Forum.

A senior Grimsby seafood executive has told a global industry audience how ‘it is truly fish’s time’ and how collaboration could help secure an additional £1 billion spend in the sector.

Stuart Caborn, chief procurement officer for Young’s, addressed North Atlantic Seafood Forum, presenting on the future of whitefish – the UK’s key species.

The Ross House team heading Britain’s number one fish business, takes the responsibility that comes with the title seriously, with Mr Caborn stating that having a voice and helping shape the industry is incumbent upon them.

He touched on Brexit and potential price inflation - and how to manage it - as well as sustainability when it comes to the raw material, and that it is packaged in, as environmental concerns become a megatrend.

And with fish in the ‘sweet spot’ of increasingly flexitarian diets - where meat drops off the everyday menu - bringing huge opportunities for seafood, the upbeat message was clear.

Fish is the ideal replacement for meat when it comes to a flexitarian diet. Here cod is served with cougettes, peppers, red onions and a light salsa. 

Mr Caborn said: “The most important point is that all parts of the value chain need to win. We see promotional driven campaigns in the UK with the outcome being short spikes in volume, larger more expensive marketing campaigns can see a longer period of consumption increase, however as soon as price normalises the consumption reverts.

But at the same time of driving increased demand and consumption, this can lead to increase in raw material pricing. In order to truly see long term sustainable consumption of cod and haddock we need stability throughout the value with an aligned strategy. Whitefish consumption has been relatively static however we have seen a shift and emergence of new whitefish species such as basa and pollock.”

MORE: UK agrees trade deals with vital seafood partners Iceland and Norway

Addressing what needs to be done to keep whitefish as an important source of protein in the UK, he said: “More consumers are reducing their red meat intake, living a more flexitarian diet. Fish is in the sweet spot as its intrinsically healthy, so we need to communicate specific health messages to different consumer groups. Not all messages meet the needs of all consumers.

“With consumer confidence ebbing, and shoppers thinking about their spending habits, we need to do all we can to be seen as an attractive choice, both economically and to minimise food waste in the home.

“Ease of preparation is also increasingly important, with consumers now telling us that ease is more important than time to cook. Fish meets this need.

“In Britain you can’t be more than 75 miles from the coast, yet incredibly we consume around four times more meat than fish per person every year.”

Mr Caborn speaking at a previous event. 

Covering off the known barriers of not liking handling, and reluctance for fear of messing up a perceived expensive meal - basic lack of trust in own abilities - despite being aware of the health and liking it to the extent it over-performs on restaurant menus, he turned to potential impact of leaving the EU.

Telling how Young’s sources 40 different species from 25 countries globally, Mr Caborn said: “Brexit represents both a risk and an opportunity so it’s important that what we can plan for we build into the value chain,” he said, underlining resilience, adaptability and innovation as key strands to secure commercial competitive advantage. “It has proven in the past that when we have faced disruptions in supply having long term partners has proven beneficial.”

Read more: Seafood chief: ‘There’s a £1bn opportunity we can all share in’

Just after the vote in 2016, Young’s commissioned research to understand the likely behaviour of consumers.

“They told us they were most worried about supermarket price increases, petrol prices and the value of their savings,” Mr Caborn said. “When we asked what they would do if prices increased, they told us one third would consider reducing the amount of times they buy certain seafood products if they increased, a third would also consider switching to cheaper brands or own label, and a quarter would simply accept the price increase – within reason.

“And while they were clear that consumers will not just drop out of fish altogether the UK market as it exists is not immediately receptive to inflation.”

The pound's fall against the euro and dollar brought price inflation into sharp focus. 

He said what happened in the salmon market in 2017, a 12-week period in which 600,000 shoppers dropped out of the market as year-on-year as inflation hit 17 per cent, could provide learnings. With the pound plunging, the UK supply was hit by a perfect storm as a sea lice outbreak affected Scandinavian production, ramping up demand, followed by a toxic algae bloom in Chile which further increased the pressure on European supplies.

“This led to the lowest level of chilled salmon volume since December 2014,” Mr Caborn reflected. “The consumers did not leave the category entirely. “Some of the spend switched to frozen seafood, and some spend moved within the chilled seafood category, such as surimi, prawn cocktails and smoked mackerel.

“Our key challenge in whitefish is that, unlike salmon with little competition, there are lots of substitutes for cod and haddock.”

Young’s has had a positive experience providing consumers with “great quality seafood and managing inflation of whitefish” dialling into the benefits of Omega Three.  Engaging with children too, through foodservice into education via the kitchen and stomach, and the classroom via the mind, are seen as important, socially responsible strategies, while also encouraging the next generation of seafood lovers. 

The future of seafood. 

Looking across the piste, Mr Caborn said: “We truly need to listen to our consumers and understand exactly what is important to them,” he said. “This means investment in research and understanding different needs of consumers.

“Sustainability particularly around packaging is a megatrend. Credible television shows have put centre of mind the plastic issue in global supply chains, and from this has come big commitments and statements toward plastic reduction in retail and branded products.

“Packaging in most cases is how we get across our key messages to consumers, but more importantly its how we protect our fantastic raw materials through long supply chains, so the consumers gets the best experience every single time, while reducing food waste.

“It is about ‘doing the right thing’. It is important that we all put the packaging megatrend at the heart of our new product development plans. And we must continue to innovate.”

He told how UK retailer Iceland was using less well known species in a ‘What the Fish’ bulk buy, at £8 for 800g of by-catch fish – whiting, pouting, grey gurnard, and megrim sole

“It offers a great on trend sustainability message at a great price,” Mr Caborn said. “We are seeing greater expansion in species ranges, in particular pollock, seabass,and basa, they offer great sustainability stories and great taste.”

Einar Olgeirsson, left, of Young's Seafood; takes part in a special packaging event hosted by Jeremy Hodson and Chris Tonge of Ultimate Packaging, alongside Diana Taylor and Andy Parkinson, of Bondholders.

The message moved straight on to Boston, where Seafood Expo North America is taking place this week.

It is a return to a show where the Grimsby-made seafood range secured national distribution with Walmart, Sam’s Club and Ahold Delhaize.

Before the continental shift, Mr Caborn told his audience: “We collectively need to manage inflation; invest in research and development and understand the consumers. The more we know, the more we can sell.

“Take advantage of fish friendly trends, this is truly fish’s time and we must collectively take advantage of it, and continue to drive innovation.

“That’s why, is if we can all collectively increase sustainable seafood consumption to the magic two-a-week, then that represents a £1 billion opportunity for all of us to share in.”

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