How do you strike the balance between good value seafood and sustainable seafood?
Especially when it comes to seafood, everyone wants to do the right thing. The popularity of sustainable seafood, amongst both chefs and consumers, has grown steadily in recent years. But for restaurateurs balancing ever-shrinking profit margins against ever-growing costs, it’s sometimes difficult to justify more expensive, sustainable product against cheaper (but less sustainable) ones. When it comes to using sustainable seafood, do you lead your customers or respond to them? And what will your response do to your business?
Kiwi salmon producers New Zealand King Salmon is proud of its record of sustainability in a market where many of their competitors use unsustainable practices. “Our strongest selling point to chefs at the moment is taste and texture followed by sustainability,” says Markus Gerlich, general manager, Australia, for New Zealand King Salmon. “This, however, can differ from chef to chef and they are interchangeable in priority.”
Other seafood suppliers have noted a similar trend. “Sustainable seafood is a feature now that a lot of our end users are asking for,” says Cindy Eskarous,marketing manager withPacific West Foods. “It’s a point of difference for cafes and restaurants and even hotels to offer a quality product with a feel-good component to it. More and more Australian diners are questioning sustainability and this will grow further in the next few years. We’re seeing a trend where chefs and restaurants are starting to work together to inspire about sustainable seafood.”
With that at the front of its minds, Pacific West has recently released a branded range of tempura hake called ‘Sustainable Harvest’, which is heavily promoted as a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-accredited product. The reaction to it to date, says Cindy Eskarous, has been quite favourable, and “although Australia isn’t as advanced as the EU with sustainable produce, we’re certainly on our way to introducing sustainable products to the market”.
“I think sustainability is not understood fully by Australians,” she adds. “The word has become so fluid to the point where when you ask diners what is sustainable produce, a majority had mixed answers such as ‘better for you’, ‘free of any chemical’, ‘plenty of’ etc. So the Australian market is still in need of more time to understand sustainability and how it affects us and in our case our marine resources.”
The Sustainable Harvest product, sourced from South Africa, was chosen by the company as an affordable product that ticked all the sustainability boxes. “It’s a quality white fish that Australians prefer,” says Cindy Eskarous. “The ranking in terms of what Australians prefer to eat are known species such as flathead and barramundi, however the premium value based deep sea white fish species noted in the Food Service Market is Capensis Hake and NZ Hoki. Both our Hoki and Hake are a sustainable choice and both are certified by MSC.”
Taste is obviously a factor as well, “and again being one of our most popular products, Tempura Fish, we thought this product ticks all the boxes with taste and price. To further grow our market share we thought, let’s gain certification and lead the way with MSC. A lot of our competitors are saying they’re sustainable but without certification they’re actually misleading their customers,” continues Eskarous.
“We want to assist and cater for those end users who are looking to satisfy those customers who want to make a more informed and sustainable fish choice. We are catering for this by providing options at an accessible price point one where our price has been steady and has not increased at all as a result of getting certification. So really it’s costing our end users no more but gives them an added benefit of having Sustainable Harvest Tempura Fish on menus,” she says.
New Zealand King Salmon has also had to not only find a price point acceptable to the market, but then convince the market that the benefits of their clean and green product outweigh the costs. “We are not nor will we ever be the cheapest salmon in the market,” explains Markus Gerlich, “but in saying that, due to the King Salmon’s rich texture, you can serve less of our salmon and the customer will still feel very satisfied. As with all animals, there are cheaper cuts but it depends on what the chef is doing on his dish and how well they utilise it. The difference in price from a plate cost between ours and say other salmon is as little as $0.50, as you can serve less.”
The sustainability argument is still important to chefs, but all their concerns must be addressed, Gerlich says, to achieve cut-through to foodservice.
“It comes down ultimately to the person making the purchase decision which can often come down to price. There certainly is a strong element of chefs who do care about sustainability, but ultimately for a restaurant it is about the dining experience,” he explains. “What our salmon can deliver that is superior to anything else and it’s scarcity, as we are but less than one per cent of the total farmed salmon in the world. We are not and will not be available in mainstream retail such as Coles and Woolworths, which is also a positive for the restaurants.”
New Zealand King Salmon is much awarded and recognised for its sustainable farming practices, which is challenging because King Salmon is the hardest breed of salmon to farm. They have a number of systems in place that means they have very little impact in the environment, which thus keep the water quality high and the fish less stressed, and have been recognised around the world for it. Nonetheless, Gerlich says they still have to explain the ‘clean, green’ story around the salmon product, “but this is becoming less frequent as people see it more on the menus of Australia’s leading restaurants who are known for quality and sustainability”, Gerlich says.