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Smoked Salmon, from luxury to mass market

13/02/2012 06:18

Labeled by socialist economy as a luxury product, smoked salmon became an increasingly appreciated product by the Romanian consumers. The offered assortment, based on imports and producer's brands, registered lately a large diversification with new products under private brands. The category remains an immense opportunity, and the international trends push producer's and retailer's imagination towards new limits.

For many Romanians, the smoked salmon was a luxury for years. Its presence in the stores almost coincided with establishment of the first units of modern commerce. Even so, it remained a niche item for years, preferentially consumed at festivities or at the New Year dinner table. But the Romanian consumer slowly discovered the special culinary qualities of the product.


Atlantic salmon

The existing products on Romanian market come exclusively from imports, either as finished products imported by distribution firms or by retail networks under their private brands, or as a raw material to be locally processed afterwards. The basic ingredient is the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) coming from aquaculture on Atlantic shores countries. Salmon culture is mentioned in England since XIX century. Norway developed in 1960 the first farms profiled on culture of salmon in special cages, in the fiord areas. The success was fast and the procedure was taken over by other states too.

The salmon culture represents today for the Norwegian an important segment of their economy. Norway is the most important salmon producer, with over 800.000 tons annually. European Union, having a share of only 10% in world production, does not satisfy their own market requirements. England, Ireland and France produce a total of 150.000 tons annually and other 480.000 tons are additionally imported from Norway. The European Union is Norway's main market - over 65% of Norwegian salmon goes annually to the EU countries, in a large assortment, from fresh salmon to fillet or deeply frozen packages.

The price of Norwegian salmon was relatively steady lately. After the increase by the end of 2010, it seemed that the price would rise-up. The processor's and consumer's resilience moderated such tendencies and imprinted a slightly diminishing rhythm. So, at the stock exchange in Bergen, Norway, the price of fresh salmon reached in October the level of € 2,80/kilogram compared with €5,71/kilogram in April-May the last year. It's a diminishing tendency which maintains the current year. The price and the increasing requirements of the market, allowed that cheaper products appeared in time, both inside and outside EU. There are more and more imports of frozen salmon of Chinese provenance. Poland's increasing production of smoked salmon become more and more visible onto this segment of European markets. France, the largest market in the EU, imports now 73% from Poland. It is a spectacular increase compared with 4-5%  a few years ago.


The Romanian processors are dominant on inland market

The Romanian market of smoked salmon is entirely based on imports. The two most important processing companies, Ocean Fish and Negro 2000, have a portfolio of both their own names and of private brands. The opportunity of the category was noticed by the retailing networks. There are 8 of them who developed items under their own brands. We find out on the market a total of 21 items, under no less than 14 brands, positioned on different price levels, pending the respective retailer's strategy.  Out of these items, 16 are produced in Romania by the two mentioned companies. The other 5 items are retailer's own imports from their countries of origin. They are not unique items, but products meant to offer added value and diversity in the category. Lidl, with a single produce imported from Poland under their own brand OceanSea, is the single exception. But this is a normal situation for a discounter having an assortment of items limited in number.

We also find a single item in the assortments presented by Auchan (under brand Auchan) and Billa (under brand Clever). Both retailers enlarged their lists with items made by local producers. The other five retail networks attached to the category preferred two or even three private brands, with a classic combination between entry level and mainstream.



Creating a difference through price and package weight

Romanian producer's monopoly upon private brand produces is obvious. 16 out of the 21 existing items on the market are produced by OceanFish and Negro 2000 companies. The balance leans sensibly towards OceanFish, the first company who started production under private brands. Besides, with their 75% percentage of the assortment on the market they are taking the lion's share. It seems impossible to differentiate on such a concentration of the production.  The printed labeled information are almost identical, as well as the recipes used.

For the consumer, behind the connotation of a private brand, the selection criteria can be limited to price and alternatively to package weight. The price differential criteria is usually applied by the retailers who developed two or three products upon different price segments.  In all cases, the prominence of an initial price is strictly based on the product and not on the differences in package weight. The market package weights are rather similar to those in the producer's assortment, and varies between 100 and 150 grams. The most frequent is 100g package (8 items) followed by 150g (6 items) and 140g (4 items). There are also packages of 200g in Mega Image and Metro assortments, and  a 500g package created especially by Metro for horeca category  under their brand HorecaSelect.


Smoked salmon, an increasing category

It may look strange but, whilst the consumers are looking at the price with more and more attention, this category is constantly increasing. Mega Image was among the first retail networks who introduced a private brand into their assortment. Smoked salmon brand 365 is among the very few items not produced in Romania. Moreover, the retailer decided on a higher package weight of 200 grams. The recipe is based on Atlantic salmon too, but the produce is processed in France. The product was well received by the consumers as from its launching, and the volume was constantly increasing. Elena Cristudor Buyer Private Label&Import Products of  Mega Image network, confirms the positive evolution of this item: "smoked salmon  brand 365 is in top three value of the best sold items private brand in the Mega Image network". The registered good results have determined the enlarging of the assortment with two new items: Delhaize Norwegian Atlantic smoked salmon 140g and 365 Smoked salmon 100g. The last item is produced under brand 365 in Romania and was launched at the beginning of January.

The launching of new products prove the importance of the category for other retail networks, too. A new first item appeared in Auchan assortment at the beginning of the year: smoked salmon fillet 150g under their own brand Auchan.

There are two new items produced in Romania recently listed in Metro assortment. The retailer choose Fine Food brand this time, with two variants of smoked salmon: Fine Food smoked salmon 150g and Fine Food piquant smoked salmon 150g. Metro presently has the largest assortment of private brand in the smoked salmon category: seven items under three different brands. "The own brand of smoked salmon represents for Metro over 50% of the value sold in this category" declares Adrian Ariciu, Head of Own Brands management Metro Cash&Carry. "The own brand products of smoked salmon are on the leading positions in fresh food category". The declaration of Metro's official is confirming the importance of the category and the ascent of the products in consumer's preference.


Tendency and innovations

It is France, the greatest consumer of smoked salmon in the EU, who gives the tone and imprints periodically the tendency of the market through the innovations of their producers. The French companies Guyader and Labeyrie propose to the consumers products with added value, which prizes the zones of origin. Several of Labeyrie items can be found in our hypermarkets too, in the imports carried out by Nordic company. These are premium items, with controlled origin, coming from Ireland, Norway or Alaska. Guyader company, the Labeyrie competitor, propose to put at value the French origin. A product of French aquaculture was launched by them at the end of last year in Cora, Geant Casino and Simply Market networks with great market success.

Another tendency is the return to simplicity. The producers promote the advantages of the natural salmon, not processed or not smoked, in diverse spice and herbs marinates.  Company Labeyrie also propose to the customers five new smoked salmon recipes, in mixtures of herbs and juices. Their recipes based on herbs, lemon juice and green lemons, dill and basil, champagne, saffron or sweet spices, made the consumer's relish. The trend bio is also to be noticed in salmon market, even if still not largely developed, but in niche segment.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Loblaw - the greatest Canadian retail network of food products endeavor to sustain the salmon. They offer an aquaculture salmon, grown up in Atlantic area on basis of a new aquaculture integrated method. Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) suggests a managerial handling of the aquatic ecosystems, so that by selecting the species and the size of the population, a natural balance is created, which would improve the ecosystem health.


Romanian market receptive to international tendencies

The tendencies noticed on the international markets are slowly showing in the locally made products. The consumer's dilemma when faced with almost identical products, diversified mostly by commercial or marketing criteria, seems to come to an end. The retailers begin to assume their role of educating the consumers and offer items with high added value through high level of innovation.

Mega Image took over from their assortment in Belgian stores a premium item under brand Delhaize. Delhaize Norwegian Atlantic smoked salmon 140g is the first product under private brand to appear in stores in Romania, clearly traceable. Salmon offspring is collected from Norwegian waters and then grown up for one year in aquaculture farms in Atlantic areas. The fish nourishment is permanently controlled carefully. The final product has also the benefice of the geographic certificate of origin issued by Delhaize group.

Elena Cristudor of Buyer Private Label&Import Products of Mega Image network, declared about this product: "Delhaize Atlantic Norwegian salmon 140g is listed in premium stores only, but it is placed at no.30 in the top value of Mega Image private brands".


Cora Degustation - premium French cuisine products for the gourmets

Towards the end of the last year, Cora launched in their stores two references under recently prized brand Cora Degustation. The two premium products, especially created for the gourmands, carry within the refinement of French cuisine but also the most recent tendencies on smoked salmon market. Thus, we regain two recipes for smoked salmon, marinated in special mixtures of 5 herbs each:

  • Cora Degustation slices of Atlantic smoked salmon, with lemon juice and dill 100g
  • Cora Degustation slices of Atlantic smoked salmon with 5 spices 100g

Cora‘s decision to fetch these products in Romanian stores is salutary and prove the retailer's openness to diversify the category.



Metro intentions to extend the assortment

The smoked salmon is seasonal, with selling peaks during Winter Holidays. In France, over 75% of the people consume smoked salmon during this period of time. It is a peak in sales which represents 33% of the annual volumes. But during the recent years a tendency was noticed, to level the consumption on the entire year. The peak of the December month diminished up to 23% of the annual consumption. A similar tendency was also noticed on the Romanian market, where the smoked salmon is frequently used during winter holidays as hors d'oeuvre. The exception is horeca segment, the request for such products extending on the entire year, pending various events. The horeca customers represent a special category for Metro. A witness is the fact that the retailer is periodically preparing special educational and professional training programs for them. Not the least, the assortment of Metro stores usually comes in consequence of the special needs of this sector.

In spite of the three brands and seven listed items, Adrian Ariciu, Head of Own Brands management Metro Cash&Carry, believes that the present assortment listed in Metro stores is "poorly". "We intend to extend for horeca clients the assortment Horeca Select, on several price levels, diversifiable on capture zones. But for such traceability we should have the ready prepared suppliers". 

Florin Frasineanu 


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