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Get ready for 'Alaskan McPollock' and the price surge it will bring.

Get Ready for |Alaskan McPollock' And the Price Surge it Will Bring

With the frozen seafood commodity market in flux due to resource shortages and strong demand, you can say goodbye to good buys.

With the state of the frozen commodity seafood market in such a state of change, what are non-commercial foodservice (catering) buyers to do? Just when Alaskan pollock became an acceptable (and affordable!) item on the menu, will rising prices for the raw material soon price it out of reach?

"Well, this fish is just so good that right about now a little hamburger chain that has always used cod is allegedly getting ready to start using Alaskan McPollock also," advised Dana Staples, vice president of marketing for Frionor USA, New Bedford, Mass. "These folks are the trendsetters, and you can be sure when they dip into the pollock resource, the price will rise. The US fast food taboo of serving only cod, once broken, will have far reaching effects throughout the industry."

Staples' warning was given at the Boston Seafood Show, where he sat on a panel discussing finfish price and supply trends. He offered these insights to buyers who must soon make procurement decisions:

* Cod block will be more available than it has been in the recent past, due in part to the move of fast food restaurants toward Alaskan pollock. But don't expect it to be cheap. Current (mid-March) pricing at $2.50-2.55 may edge upward, and the threat of a fluctuating dollar could again take all production to the United Kingdom. An unknown factor is the ability and willingness of the North Pacific trawler fleet to make up cod blocks. It is thought to be unlikely, though, due to better returns earned from other product lines.

* No longer a fish for the masses, haddock block is now a gourmet-priced item at $2.90 per pound. The catch should remain at about the same level as last year. But in US waters it can be classified as a commercial non-entity. Elsewhere, it is only a shadow of its former self.

* US-produced single frozen Alaskan pollock is being sold to the general trade at a new high price of $1.50 a pound. But it could rise to as much as $2 by the middle of the summer after the burger barons and the surimi samurais have divided up the catch. A shortage also applies to the IQF pollock fillet market, which has shown some promise but now appears to be doomed by block/surimi prices and logistical considerations.

But there might be hope in double frozen production from the Orient, as well as from output from the Donut Hole and Western Bering Sea. The double frozen production, while receiving a mixed reputation in past years, is indistinguishable from single frozen product if properly converted. "But when it hasn't, you don't want to eat it," cautioned Staples.

* Ocean perch is in good supply this year, with the block market expected to be priced at around $1.55-1.60. But buyers should remember that the species tends to be difficult to bone and the flesh has a high fat content, which shortens shelf life. The taste characteristics are stronger than cod and haddock.

* Atlantic pollock, while dark in flesh, is palatable in more ways than one at $1.75 plus for blocks. Last year's harvests were down in some locations, and it was demand in the German market that drove up pricing. Good availability should occur in the mid to later summer.

* New Zealand hoki defatted fillets have been purchased by a number of foodservice chains. Rumor has it that a few tons are still left for the rest of the trade at a reasonable price.

* The South American whitings -- gayi and hubsi -- are a good frozen correctly. But if there is a problem in the production chain, noted Staples, "These turn into the proverbial fish for selling, not fish for eating."

* Southern blue whiting, while small and difficult to process, has built a following in Europe.

* While prices are not low, farm-raised catfish are capturing the USA market by market. Foodservice has been particularly receptive to the species.

* Because of a supply glut, salmon may very well be among the best fish bargains going right now. Record catches are expected, which will keep prices down. "If some Alaskan packers modify their fillet machines for salmon, this market may turn pink with the species," said the Frionor vice president.

Stage of Evolution

Staples commented that the processed seafood industry is evolving at approximately the same rate as the non-commercial foodservice sector. "The old days of cardboard fish sticks are gone, and the new days of school cafeteria pollock nuggets with multiple sauces for dipping have arrived. Some airlines have even gone so far as to use smoked salmon and shrimp. Will wonders never cease?"

He urged menu planners not to let personal prejudice get in the way of creative menuing. "We have one item, a honey and granola covered fish portion. To anyone over 14 years old, it sounds and tastes disgusting. However, the target audience loves it . . . And the six year old that likes and eats seafood will do so forever, even if they start with a seafood trail mix."

PHOTO : Don't let personal prejudice get in the way of creative menuing, says Frionor's Dana Staples.
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Title Annotation:QFFI's Global Seafood Magazine
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:Surimi big retail winner in 1990 in otherwise dull frozen fish case.
Next Article:More retail fish packs going upscale in shift to restaurant quality fare.

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