Cold water prawn struggles to compete against its warm water counterpart

Finding the right niche for cold water prawns 

Organized by NASF, ICWPF and Norwegian Seafood Council, the International Shellfish Event at the North Atlantic Seafood Forum offered a vision into the complex worlds of shellfish species, highlighting new trends and the ability of the shellfish industry to adapt to the volatile markets. Opened by Renate Larsen, CEO of the Norwegian Seafood Council, the session focused on the global trends in shellfish, product and market development of various shellfish categories and consumption of shellfish.

Trends in the global shellfish consumption were presented by Kristin Lien from the Norwegian Seafood Council. United States, Europe, Japan, China and the Republic of Korea are the largest destinations for shellfish species as well as the largest markets for prawns. While Europe, Spain, the UK, France and Italy are the largest consumption markets, consumption trends vary significantly for different shellfish species. 

Challenges of decreasing consumption of shellfish

For example, household consumption of cold water prawns in the UK has been decreasing in 2015 and 2016, while household consumption of warm water prawns has been on the rise since 2014. Based on the EUROPANEL data, this tendency for cold water prawns is especially evident for natural, fresh cold water prawns. The decline is noticed in all kind of households, including families with and without children, retired consumers and other consumer groups. Consumption of cold water prawns remains highest among consumers over 50 and especially retired consumers over 65.    

A similar trend characterizes the household consumption of scallops in France, the largest importing country of scallops in Europe. Prices increased due to a high demand for scallops coupled with limited global production; as a result, French household consumption of scallops decreased in all types of households during the past few years. However, scallops were more popular than products in the shellfish category in households of young consumers.

”There is a big potential on the markets for exclusive shellfish species, while in case of prawns, we notice a common trend that warm water prawns have become more dominant. It is a challenging situation for cold water prawns industry to find the right segments which are willing to pay extra for wild prawns in the future”, said Kristin Lien. 

Cold water prawns versus warm water prawns

The conflicting situation between cold water and warm water prawns was also discussed by Henrik Espersen of Ocean Prawns. He sees that education of next-generation chefs in the UK is the key to the survival of cold water prawns in the continually changing market. Reappraisal of wild Atlantic prawns, knowledge of how to prepare and use them and awareness of how they can add value to the menu are the most important factors in reinforcing the correct knowledge about cold water prawns as well as maintaining sufficient customer demand.

While chefs can be informed about shellfish on the professional level, how much do consumers know about shellfish? Charles Boardamn, a director from Icelandic Seachill, tried to find out the who, when and why of cold water prawn consumption. According to the results from Kantar Worldpanel, occasions for consumption of cold water prawns decreased by 35% from 2013 to 2016 against a 9% growth in consumption of all prawns in the same period.

The main consumers of cold water prawns are women, and of the female prawn consumers, 66% are over 65. Although only 18% of all chilled fish is consumed at lunch, 35% of cold water prawns consumption occasions happen at lunch. Cold-water prawns are more likely than warm-water prawns to be consumed for enjoyment and health, but less likely for their practicality: for the cold water prawns consumption occasions, 84% were for enjoyment, 40% for health, and 47% for practicality. On the other hand, for warm water prawn consumption occasions, 76% were for enjoyment, 27% for health, and 67% for practicality.  An interesting observation was that in half of the consumption occasions, cold water prawns were chosen by consumers who wanted a change in their dietary habits. 

Appealing to younger consumers, reducing reliance on lunch occasions and highlighting shorter preparation time for healthy and tasty meals are seen as the main challenges for the cold water prawn markets, whose goal now should be to address the issue of “practicality.”

Shellfish in sushi

Detailed review of the sushi restaurant industry and use of shellfish was presented by Lise Lotte Callesøe from Denmark’s Flying Seafood Group Foods. The popularity of sushi has been increasing in Denmark for many years, and one out of 200 Danes eat sushi on an average day, according to the 2016 survey. Sushi is admired most in the Danish capital compared to other parts of the country, and young people between 15 and 34 represent the most active consumer group.

Shellfish often has a limited application in the sushi industry, compared to other fish and seafood species, so the challenge of higher inclusion in sushi is topical for shellfish producers. The assessment of restaurant categories offering sushi from both the perspectives of both the guest and the restaurant gives a better understanding of shellfish products positioning, according to Lisa Lotte. She considered examples of mainstream restaurants like sushi and buffet restaurants, along with high-end restaurants and take-away restaurants.

Sushi buffet is typically appreciated by young people and families with kids for its cheap, fast service and wide meal selection. From the restaurant’s perspective, finding “filler” products and relatively cheap substitutes is a challenge, as is using of all parts of the fish. High-end sushi restaurants are typically viewed by consumers as delicious and innovative, yet time-consuming. The main challenge for these restaurants is differentiating themselves from buffet-style sushi restaurants. Like the buffet restaurants, take-away sushi restaurants are known to consumers for their delicious, fast, easy and ready-to-eat food. Optimization of preparation process and profitability of business are the main challenges for take-away restaurants.  

Integration of shellfish in sushi business highly depends on the niche of the product and type of shellfish species. Yet, the physical attributes of shellfish products and peeling processes represent common challenges for shellfish products, which are tackled by producers in different ways. “Clear vision in what part of the sushi business you want to serve, inspiration, creativity, realistic vision of your products, and creation of your own niche form success for shellfish in sushi business”, concluded Lisa Lotte.