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Are European consumers finally ready for tilapia?
July 31, 2013, 04:18 PM
It remains a puzzle. One of America's favorite fish -- a fish so well liked that its name is widely recognized on menus across the country -- hasn't made it big in Europe.

Long-term, some companies see the fish having a bright future, and are putting effort into marketing the species to more adventurous consumers as a quality alternative to some of the well-worn standards.

Among the companies pushing the fish is Seachill's The Saucy Fish Co., whose brand has taken hold at UK retail with its eye-catching packaging and unique flavors.

The fish was a natural fit, according to Simon Smith, sales and marketing director at the company. Saucy Fish recently launched a new set of tilapia products into the market, and Smith said he has high hopes, but realistic expectations.

“Tilapia farms really well and I see no reason why in the long term tilapia won’t be successful, but in the short term I think it is going to be long and slow,” Smith told IntraFish.

“It’s always tough introducing a new species to consumers and they will still see tilapia in the United Kingdom as a new species. People tend to go for the fish dishes that they are familiar with."

Low cod prices a drag

Tilapia's potential is being stymied by its price premium. Producers told IntraFish the price of tilapia is fairly similar to cod at the moment, and depending on a range of size, quality and freight factors, comes in at around €4 ($5.20) to €5 ($6.50) per kilo at wholesale.

“At the end of the day if people have the choice between a piece of cod and a piece of tilapia they will choose cod," Wilem Huisman, director at Netherlands-based seafood supplier Anova said.

In the long-term, Huisman is adamant tilapia will be a key species in the region, particularly if producers focus on quality. Prices of wild whitefish such as cod will not remain low forever and eventually the growth will be in farmed species, he told IntraFish.

In the meantime, tilapia looks expensive to consumers.

“The only thing they can do is produce a quality product to make sure the consumer will justify the high cost,” added Huisman.

Not all whitefish prices are low at the moment, so the cod situation will not have a completely overriding effect on tilapia prices.

“Haddock is very high at the moment...and we’ve got typically high summer prices on seabass at the moment as well," Saucy Fish's Smith told IntraFish.

Even with the comparative pricing with those fish, stealing volume from UK's "Big Five" most-consumed species will be tough. But Saucy Fish launched the tilapia product in part because it wanted a way to differentiate the brand.

“There is only so much you can do with the' Big Five', so we want to constantly refresh with something that is new out there, the price is also attractive, and to a certain set of consumers it gives a really nice white fish fillet that carries flavor really well,” he said.

Smith said it was “too early to say” what the uptake among consumers is for tilapia, but "we’ve seen mixed results, some retailers are doing better than others, but it is doing extremely well in the convenience environment."

Eastern promise

Land-based tilapia producer Global Fish has only just entered the European tilapia market but so far has an optimistic outlook and strategy for the product, especially in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States.

Key markets for the company at the moment include Poland and the United Kingdom, but export director  Przemyslaw Drozdz said he was hoping to expand even further and maybe enter markets in Germany and the Netherlands as well.

For this part of Europe as well, Drozdz said cod prices have had very little effect, and tilapia mainly competes with seabream, “ which is getting more and more expensive."

“There is definitely increasing demand as it is a new fish on the European market, and people are keen to try something new,” he told IntraFish.

Drozdz referenced the fish's success in America, saying "there is no reason not to make tilapia popular in Europe as well,” he said.

If the European tilapia market was even 10 percent of the size of the one in the United States, he would be “more than happy."

“We will just work continuously to make tilapia more popular, hopefully in a few more years this would be one of the five most popular species in Europe,” he said.

The main challenge is to change the reputation of tilapia however, said Drozdz.

The first reaction is it is a cheap fish from China farmed in very bad conditions, he said, so the challenge is to “change this mentality and opinion about tilapia so people can recognize it as relatively cheap fish from sustainable sources."

“People don’t eat only cod, they eat other species, also prices of cod will not be so low forever, it doesn’t help us to get into France, Spain or Portugal, but we believe in our part of Europe there is definitely a space for tilapia,” he said.

Source: (IntraFish)
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