Norway increases salmon exports to China

Salmon sushi and sashimi platter. Credit: Angelicadlr/License CC BY-SA 3.0
Salmon sushi and sashimi platter. Credit: Angelicadlr/License CC BY-SA 3.0
Norway’s exports of fresh salmon to China are growing
Norway’s exports of fresh salmon to China are growing

Norway’s exports of fresh salmon are growing at a strong double digit annual rate to China, reports David Hayes.

The current fashion among the growing middle class to eat Japanese food when dining out has had the unexpected side effect of boosting consumption of high priced imported fresh salmon which is popular served as sashimi and on sushi.

China has grown, during the past two decades, to become the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of fisheries products. At the same time the country has become one of the world’s fastest growing markets for imported fresh salmon.

Fresh and frozen
At present most salmon are imported frozen for export processing by China’s large fishery processing industry which is based in northern Shandong Province. Fresh salmon, meanwhile, are being imported in growing numbers largely for domestic consumption.

“Fresh salmon demand is increasing by about 30% annually. That’s fantastic and has been going on for some years,” commented Sigmund Bjørgo, China and Hong Kong director for the Norwegian Seafood Council. “Salmon has a different distribution and consumption pattern in China as it is mainly consumed in restaurants and hotels. About 80% of fresh salmon is eaten in restaurants and just 20% in the home."

“This makes China unique as in most other Asian countries it’s the opposite situation and fresh salmon mostly is eaten at home. Most, about 80%, of fresh salmon consumption is as sashimi. That’s because Japanese food is popular now as raw fish is not traditional in China. About half of fresh salmon consumption in China is in Japanese restaurants; also, in hotels where it is served as sashimi for buffets,” he added.

Imported fresh salmon consumption raw as sashimi and on sushi rice balls started in Japan about 10 years ago. This trend has spread to China, and some other countries, where many people believe salmon to be a Japanese fish.

Fresh salmon is popular in China because of its red colour which is considered lucky. In addition, the firm, tender, juicy texture and the marbling of fresh salmon combine to give a good feeling in the diner’s mouth which also has helped promote its popularity among affluent diners.

“It’s not only the fresh salmon taste, it’s the whole experience for Chinese people which is most important when eating salmon,” said Mr Bjørgo. “It’s not about healthy eating, it’s about indulgence.”

Status symbol
Eating fresh salmon has grown as a status symbol in China where it is now among one of the most expensive seafood items on offer in restaurants.

“The price of seafood in China is larger in range than in Europe and starts at about RMB 15 per kilogram (US$2.40)  upwards,” Mr Bjørgo remarked. “Abalone, hairy crab in autumn, live king crab and beche de mer are normally the most expensive items, but fresh salmon is a very high end product as it’s generally about five to 10 times more expensive than other seafood items.”

In spite of the high price, fresh salmon is increasing in popularity and is becoming more widely known in major cities where income levels are higher.

“In Shanghai we found in a consumer survey that 75% of people had tried salmon during the past year and around 55% of people surveyed in Beijing and Guangzhou,” Mr Bjørgo said. “There is aspiration involved in eating fresh salmon. It’s an everyday luxury. It’s something people look forward to. It’s imported so people know it’s international. Many middle class people now can afford to eat at Japanese restaurants.”

China’s imports of fresh salmon are growing each year. Norway is the largest supplier but other countries including Canada and Chile are trying to develop fresh salmon exports to this important expanding market.

In 2011 China’s consumption of imported salmon, mostly fresh, totalled around 50,000 tonnes from all countries.

The total consumption of imported salmon for Hong Kong, which consumes about 15,000 tonnes, much of it fresh, is expected to reach around 65,000 tonnes when figures are calculated for 2012.

Mr Bjørgo said: “If everything goes as we expect consumption of imported salmon, mostly fresh, in China and Hong Kong in 2013 will be almost 90,000mt. There are two factors – economic growth means there are more people becoming middle class and these people have more purchasing power. Also, there is increased distribution of fresh salmon where people can buy or eat salmon including Japanese and non-Japanese restaurants and supermarkets. We see no end to this 30% annual consumption growth rate."

Fresh salmon does face competition but not from non-fishery products.

“What is competing with fresh salmon is other sashimi fishery products. We did a market survey of 5,000 consumers in China. Some 50% said they preferred salmon sashimi and 20% said lobster sashimi. When consumers in China think about sashimi they think salmon and when they think salmon they think sashimi," he concluded.

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