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Cod supply shortage prompts marketers to get innovative with pollock products.

Cod Supply Shortage Prompts Marketers To Get Innovative With Pollock Products

When first becoming involved with the United Kingdom frozen food industry nearly 40 years ago, this writer well remembers that it was the quality of quick frozen fish that made the best impression. Perhaps it was because the person who introduced me to QFF techniques mentioned, more than once, that the fish was so fresh after quick freezing that one could rub it all over his body and still smell sweet. At that time the most freely available variety was herring, and somehow I never could bring myself to test out this theory!

But, more seriously, ever since those far off days I have been a devotee of QFF fish through all the ups and downs of that sector of the industry. The stock for herring was practically exhausted by the late 1950s around the coasts of Britain and Ireland, and that limited the opportunity of publicizing one of the earliest examples of successful product research and development: buttered kipper fillets. Another item that became very popular in the UK, until supplies dried up in the early '60s, was small plaice fillets. It was the first fish pack to benefit from the IQF technique and interleaving.

Happily, resources of good quality cod were plentiful throughout the '60s and into the '70s. This made possible a substantial marketing investment in cod fish fingers and the introduction of many new items, notably cod steaks and cod in butter sauce, soon to be followed by cod in parsley, cheese and shrimp sauces. These were advertised as the convenient, healthy, mid-day meal for the mother left at home while father was at work and the children at school.

However, since the mid-1970s the very limited availability to top quality cod has seen the arrival on the UK market of breaded and battered fish products containing less fish than the original recipes introduced in the '60s. Now Birds Eye, which has always ensured that top quality cod was the feature of its famous fish fingers, has added Prime Fish Fingers to its line. The pollock-based product comes with this explanation: "The price of cod is going up and up and while many will continue to be willing to pay the premium for quality, some are gong to find it just too expensive. So the answer is new Birds Eye Fish Fingers made with quality white fish fillets (but not necessarily cod!) and substantially cheaper than cod."

A number of companies, and certainly some own labels, have been using mixed white fish for some time, but in 1988 Birds Eye still held 49% of the fish fingers market by value.

Another very interesting new fish item was just launched in the UK, again by Birds Eye. "Captain's Quarter Pounders is a unique product that teenagers are going to love," says the publicity note. It goes on to explain that the product consists of a quarter of a pound of succulent white fish with potato and a crunchy flake in two- and four-pack sizes. An added launch incentive is a "Claim a Quarter-back" on-pack promotion, which means 25% off the next purchase plus a chance to see real quarter-backs in American football competition. The prize, a 1991 family Superbowl trip to Florida, tied in to the increasing popularity of American-style football in Britain.

Apart from probably being a boost for fish sales by the amount that will be spent on advertising, this new product looks like an obvious alternative to the much maligned beef quarter pounder and is a fine example of the opportunity to promote QFF fish as an attraction to all those consumers who are being influenced away from meat by the self-styled "experts" and food journalists (who themselves often write as if they are "experts"). Of course the beef scare will eventually die down and be replaced by another scare story meant to sell more newspapers and magazines and so keep the "experts" in business. Sorry to be so cynical, but for the past year it has been just one food scare after another in the Western world. Strange, though, that the average person lives a lot longer these days.

Business Week International has reported that McDonald's stock is not looking quite so juicy anymore. The story was mainly directed at investors following, it was claimed, sluggish second quarter earnings in the USA. Of course, sluggish profits for McDonald's might be excellent results for less successful companies, but the story does get one thinking about whether it is not time that fast food outlets really began to treat fish as a more important opportunity.

But then there is another headline: "Fish and Chip Sales Taking a Dive in the UK." This story pointed out that of the more than 9,000 outlets dedicated to this most British tradition, only one company owns more than 20 shops. Hence the market is too fragmented to allow a coordinated advertising approach.

It may well be that the fish and chip meal has become a "treat" and not the "must" it used to be, due to price rises and the trend away from fried products. Pizza parlors and Chinese takeaways may be more serious competitors even in the very "conservative" UK. But fish does not have to be fried. Perhaps all that is needed is a little more innovation led by the suppliers.

All Very Cyclical

One more fish story. Years ago, before big time commercial deep sea fishing, salmon was more freely available and cheaper in the UK than cod. Nowadays, with the rapid increase in salmon farming, the price of fresh salmon is very nearly the same as that for top quality cod or haddock. But then we do live in a cyclical world and new food ideas keep coming around, even if in more sophisticated forms. So, will QFF salmon products be the next major entry in the marketplace? And I do not mean simply salmon fish cakes!

Meanwhile, Findus recently introduced a range of four Crispy Fish Pancakes with the message that "housewives will find them an ideal way to have fish as part of their mid-week menu." And what did Birds Eye say about its Cod in Sauce range all those years ago? Indeed, very cyclical!

Ross, which made its name in fish, has decided to introduce revamped lines and packaging, saying it is "intent on making their own mark on the trade but that it will be some while before they are vying for the top spot." Very modest for a company announcement.

Hats Off to Marico

Readers may be interested to learn that in the 1990 Annual Awards presented by the British Frozen Food Federation, the best new fish-based product was Marico Cod en Croute (prawns in cheese sauce) from Icelandic Freezing Plants Ltd. This competition always produces some really original items that so often struggle to achieve distribution. At least this winner will surely be available in the Iceland Freezer Centres.

Dominican Republic Strives To Boost Shrimp Production

The Dominican Republic is now claiming to be Latin America's largest producer of freshwater prawns, followed by Brazil and Guiana. Also a major packer of white shrimp, the Caribbean nation boasts 35 commercial shrimp farms situated on 160 hectares.

The aquaculture scene has been gradually growing on the island since 1970, when technical assistance from Taiwan and Israel first arrived. Since then financing has been provided by the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Development Bank, along with private investment.

Cultura Mar Caribe, located in the north near Montecristi City, is expected to spend about $6.5 million this year to expand its shrimp breeding operations. This follows two years of inactivity caused by the economics of strong competition from producers in Ecuador and other South American countries.

"We're back thanks to the increase of consumption in the national market as well as favorable developments at the international level," explained Paul Johnson, a company spokesman.

Another shrimp farm gearing up its output capacity is Camaronera Dominicana.

KENNETH J.B. WEBB QFFI Special Correspondent
COPYRIGHT 1990 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
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Title Annotation:Great Britain
Author:Webb, Kenneth J.B.
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1990
Previous Article:Price hikes in traditional UK fish pave way for alternative species.
Next Article:'Starfish' of the industry turning out for international seafood conference.

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