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A market in love with fish dishes, France scans the world for supplies.

A Market in Love With Fish Dishes, France Scans the World for Supplies

French consumers value seafood beaucoup. A typical freezer center in Paris sells an abundance of fish products ranging from slices of smoked salmon at 228 francs (more than $38) a kilo, to fish soup and seafood salad at 31 francs (more than $5) per half kilo.

The bountiful harvest comes from around the world. Tubs contain gambas (a shrimp) from Tanzania, crab pincers from Ireland, peeled ray fins from the USA, whole cooked lobster from Cuba, Atlantic bass fillets from Iceland, Alaskan hake from Polish trawlers, and squid rounds from Thailand.

Such international fish fare satisfies consumer tastes, but it gives French economists headaches over the trade deficit. Annually the country's fishermen catch only 720,000 tons, while the French eat 102 million tons. As a result, a quarter of France's commercial trade inbalance is due to the difference in value between seafood exports and imports.

For the last 10 years French production has been relatively stable at approximately 500,000 tons of fish and 200,000 tons of crustaceans. But the domestic appetite for seafood has increased. The inability of French fisherman to keep up with demand means that producers of prepared dishes containing seafood cannot buy what they need from national sources. Forced to increasingly use imported frozen raw materials, some 780,000 tons of seafood was brought in during 1989, up 5.4% over the previous year.

Imports are all the more necessary in that the French want to eat species not found in abundance along their coast line. Among them are tuna, salmon, cod and prawns.

The chief exporter to France is the United Kingdom, which principally ships prawns, salmon and scallops. Norway, which ranks second in sales to France, primarily furnishes salmon and cod. From Denmark comes more cod. Senegal sells seafood that is not native to European waters - particularly shrimp and tuna.

If EEC supplies of raw materials dwindle due to overfishing, France will be forced to import increasing quantities of seafood from the southern hemisphere. Already tropical fish come by plane to Paris from such areas as Argentina, Chile and Southeast Asia, as well as from Senegal. Some of the Dakar factories even turn out fishkabobs of fish and vegetables.

French consumers can still find whole frozen fish in stores, but demand for same is decreasing because people do not want to spend time cooking. As it is, a typical freezer center carries, in part: sole gutted (69.80 francs a kilo); sole skinned and gutted (85.50 francs a kilo); headless, skinned, and gutted dabs (38.20 a kilo).

Six years ago 7.4% of 790,000 tons of fish that the French consumed was in the form of frozen unprepared or semi-prepared portions. Some 14.7% represented quick-frozen, elaborated products. In 1990, more than 11% of the 905,000 tons of fish eaten was frozen in unprepared or semi-prepared portions. Quick-frozen elaborated products accounted for 17.1%. (The overall percentage of elaborated as contrasted with unprepared or semi-prepared fish rose from 41.3% in 1985 to 47.7% in 1990).

Fillets remain a staple, but they are frequently sold without bones and may be both stuffed and breaded. On sale recently at Picard freezer centers, for instance, were fillets of plaice stuffed with spinach sorrel, or stuffed with shrimp and mushrooms (29.10 francs for 175 grams).

Very popular is breaded fish, which is usually sold in the form of sticks, croquettes and slices. In 1989, 40,000 tons were sold in France, although much of the raw material was imported. The fish is always of white flesh, and coating represents about 28% of the finished item.

This summer Findus promoted its Les Panes d'Or line of breaded fish to children. The front of each box depicts a golden fish issuing an invitation to "my shop and my club." On the back is an order form featuring golden points to be cut out, and a description of merchandise and the club. Membership, which brings with it a year's subscription to a journal of the "Club des Panes d'Or," a badge, card, and letter paper, costs 30 francs with an order for merchandise. Without an order the price is 30 francs and 3 points. The journal features games, stickers for cars, and suggestions for family vacations.

Also available are fritters and puff pastries. Normally 50-55% of the latter is pastry, with the filling containing cooked seafood, other ingredients and sauce. The pastries may serve as an entree or, with vegetables, as a main course. An example at the gourmet level is "Pithiviers de Poisson," a specialty that chef Michel Guerard created for Findus (41.80 francs for a 500 gram box).

Ready-to-use mixtures containing seafood are popular and practical. Seafood cocktails consist entirely of seafood. The freezer center chain Toupargel recently promoted a cocktail of squid, mussels, shrimp and cockles at 19.90 francs per 500 gram sack. It usually sells for 26.20 francs.

Marine salads combine seafood and vegetables. Frio centers sell them under its own label. A typical salad features shrimp, mussels, squid, corn, broccoli, green beans and shallots. These products, which can be thawed under running water, offer an easy way of obtaining a nutritious meal even when traveling (31.50 francs for 500 grams). Another type of mixture contains preparations for use in a cooked dish. Frio offers a garniture for paella featuring mussels, head and feet of squid, peas, and red and green peppers.

In the first frozen prepared dishes sold in France, fish was the basic ingredient. Since, meat and pasta have gradually gained on seafood. However, fish still accounts for more than 50% of prepared dishes. In 1988 fish dishes accounted for 51.8% of the market; in 1989, 51.3%. Furthermore, sales of fish-based prepared dishes are increasing 15% a year in hypermarkets and supermarkets. The French today reportedly eat some 45,000 tons of frozen cooked dishes containing fish, 40,000 tons of which are produced in France.

Because of its nutritional value and relatively few calories, fish is a natural for light dishes (normally defined as containing fewer than 300 calories). McCain recently introduced Carte Legere de la Mer to the French market. It features salmon, sole, trout, haddock, cod and hake. Findus has added to its celebrated Cuisine Legere line a NaVarin de Poisson (fish stew) which includes turnips, white wine, vermouth, and cognac. The hypermarket chain Casino is offering Les Idees Legeres, which includes Fillets of Trout and Wild Rice in Lemon Sauce.

The family-size dishes that have come into vogue since Gorcy introduced the concept in the summer of 1989 tend to rely on meat, poultry or pasta, according to Points de Vente. However, fish is creeping into this category. Volontiers sells a Paella Valenciana with fish and a Poisson Sauce Provenciale (fish with Provence sauce), for instance. Meanwhile, Gorcy produces a Parmentier de Poisson Gratine (Fish Parmentier with Cheese), selling at 26.30 francs for a 1 kilogram box.

The pervasiveness of seafood in cooked dishes is reflected in the fact that in France seafood appears in lasagna. Frio, for instance, sells a Seafood Lasagna from Gorcy, a Fisherman's Lasagna from Findus, and also a Fish-Vegetable Lasagna. Fish also finds its way into a number of more exotic foreign dishes. For example, there is Cuisine de Monde's Stuffed Crabs in the Style of the Antilles, and Shrimp Fritters with Sauce.

These dishes also come from a host of new companies that specialize in fish and, in many cases, are expanding into prepared meals from a base of plainer products. Among the new producers are SCA (Societe Commerciale de l'Adour) and Compagnie Artique Ltd. The latter, which began business in 1989, markets Sublime de la Mer and Le Dauphin Bleu. Among the items sold under the second name are Confit Crabe l'Amoricaine Surgele (Crab Conserve in the Style of Old Brittany) and Cassolette Coquilles Saint Jacques, made of scallops (50%), carrots, onions, fresh cream, butter, starch, sea lettuce (.3%), and cognac. The eye-catching packaging of Le Dauphine Bleu features a dark blue box with gold dots, a gold dolphin, a picture of seafood, and a small triangular window.

Pizzas account for 50% of frozen food "purchase actions" in France, according to a report in a issue of Grand Froid. Seafood plays a part in this lucrative market as a basic topping. Ingredients vary, but a seafood pizza may well exemplify a trend in France toward cooking ingredients in the topping before applying them to the crust, rather than assembling them for the first time on the crust. A typical seafood pizza includes clams, mussels, crevettes, tuna and cheese.

In France pizzas are served both as entrees and as main courses. A substantial cooked seafood topping brings the product close to the category of cooked dishes.

Oysters, mussels, and other shellfish are frozen for sale alone as well as ingredients in toppings and mixtures like salad. France does not produce enough mussels to meet home demand for them, although mussels are the subject of aquaculture operations. Production is 50,000 tons, but 110,000 tons of fresh mussels are needed.

Oysters are another story. French aquaculturists raised 140,000 tons in 1990, enough to supply the needs of domestic consumers and to export a little to Italy and Spain.

Servifrais has introduced Moules Marinieres, produced by a patented process of cooking in a vacuum. During this preparation the mussels remain closed. The Breton company Gel Moor sells several lines: Les Finesses de l'Ocean (mussels, queen scallops, stuffed oysters and two types of clams); Les Coquilignes (which includes cassolettes of queen scallops); Moules Marinieres (mussels cooked in their own juice with onions).

Pascal Lejean, the company's director, said that Gel Moor's chief problem is finding sufficient raw material. Only oysters and mussels are farmed, and, even when cultured, shellfish vary in size and quality from one season to another. Furthermore, freezing shellfish causes dehydration, so it is necessary for them to be in prime condition initially to help offset this effect. Gel Moor's Finesses de l'Ocean pack consists 50% of mussels and 50% of a stuffing made of butter, shallots, parsley and garlic. A box of 12 sells in Paris stores for 16.70 francs.

Id'Toast won an innovation prize at the 1990 SIAL for its seafood appetizers. Sesame seed "toasts" are topped with red, black or crystal eggs of "lampe," or eggs of trout, fish, or pork. A long, flat box, containing 24 of the toasts that represent the four types of eggs, weighs 180 grams and costs approximately 49 francs.

Seafood soups are a growing segment of the market according to Surgelation's 1991 seafood report. Among the brands are Unimer, Iglo, Ttor, Royco, and Table Plus. The products are sold as concentrates to which water must be added, and as ready-to-use dishes. Table Plus's Bouillabasse with Four Fish (50% fish) includes mussels, sea bream, crab, pollock, and white wine. A one kilogram carton serves two and costs 34.50 francs.

The second of Findus's new seafood Cuisine Legere dishes is Marmite de Poisson (a pot of fish soup), containing fillets of Alaskan hake lightly seasoned with saffron and simmered with tomatoes, carrots, fennel, potatoes, onion, and heightened with cognac, white wine, olive oil and extract of lobster.

Smashing Surimi

The great contemporary success story in the French seafood sector may, however, be a very basic product: surimi. The analog is made of less expensive, blended whitefish. Surimi was first imported in any quantity from Japan in 1985. The French consumed 8,000 tons in 1989 and 11,000 tons in 1990. The first products were crab-flavored sticks. Such are still the most popular surimi item, accounting for more than 90% of the market. However, producers are now molding surimi in different shapes and flavoring it with lobster or scallops. For example, Deesse de la Mer surimi, imported from Japan by CIBSA of Boulogne sur Mer, is, to quote the box, "a delicious preparation with a base of surimi and lobster" (50% Alaskan pollock, 2.15% lobster). Three rounded pieces, weighing a total of 264 grams, cost 31 francs.

As Grand Froid speculates in its April 1991 issue, surimi can be expected to become the new vogue in prepared dishes.

PHOTO : Findus has targeted the youth market with this Les Panes d'Or line of fish sticks made from Alaskan whitefish. Packaging includes an invitation for kids to join a specially-formed membership club. The 330 gram box sells for 14 francs.

PHOTO : The Carte Legere range is available on the French retail market from McCain Frima NV. Among its low calorie, salt-free recipes is Filleted Haddock in Bordelaise Sauce with Puree.

PHOTO : Imported from Japan by CIBSA, imitation lobster is an example of the more sophisticated surimi products now sold in France. Deesee de la Mer is made mostly of Alaskan pollock (50%), with lobster representing only 2.15% of volume.
COPYRIGHT 1991 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
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Title Annotation:France' seafood market
Author:Davis, Mary
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Previous Article:Some 8,000 tons harvested from Swedish fish farms.
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