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Top Story: A fish fiesta

As Seafood Barcelona debuts, we take a look at Spain’s dynamic seafood industry

By Chris Dove
October 01, 2012

As goes Spain, so goes the world? That may be true in the seafood industry, where Spain is a dominant force in the world market, with per-capita seafood consumption at 58.5 pounds as of June, compared to the average 48.5 pounds per capita throughout Europe and 15 pounds in the United States last year. And things are only looking up: Spain’s consumption is forecast to rise to 62 pounds per capita in 2013 and Spain currently boasts the world’s fifth-largest per-capita expenditure on fish and seafood at €200 ($262) annually compared to €114 ($150) throughout Europe. Spanish consumers are increasing their retail seafood purchases, valued at €8.97 million ($11.79 million) in June 2012. 

But will the seafood powerhouse be able to survive the economic pall that has fallen over the European market? Defying the odds, large retail chains and suppliers have overcome a lack of funding and cash-flow problems to increase their bargaining power. This is evident in packaged frozen seafood sections in supermarkets. Over the last year, supermarkets have penetrated 42 percent of frozen seafood distribution channels in terms of total household consumption, reaching 3 percent higher than any other distribution channel, taking market value to 38 percent of the sectors’ total based on an average price cut of 1.71 percent. 

Not all trends are upward, however. Species such as sole witnessed a 12 percent price increase in the year to April 2012 and paid heavily in terms of a 22 percent sales decline, while octopus with its above-average 18 percent price hike lost nearly a quarter of its sales over the same period. 

As of April, raw material distributors increased their volume share, generating 51.27 percent turnover for the first time in this category, accounting for 85 percent of consumption. 

There are 387 seafood wholesalers affiliated with the National Association of Wholesale Fish Merchants (ANMAPE) in Spain, and many more worldwide trying to capture the attention of buyers there. As the inaugural Seafood Barcelona trade show is held this month in the country’s northeast city, SeaFood Business focuses on Spanish restaurant and retail seafood buyers and the trends they are setting. (Editor’s Note: Seafood Barcelona is produced by SFB parent company, Diversified Business Communications.)

Restaurants excel 

Spain is home to many chefs who are setting the bar for world cuisine. Seafood restaurant chef Iñigo Almenara López from Tenerife’s Monkey Group won a Golden Fishhook Award from the Spanish Fishing Federation and ANMAPE in November 2011 for his Roast Salmon on Cedar Wood. The annual award, promoting seafood consumption under the slogan “Enjoy eating fish,” is seeing greater participation levels within the framework of culinary tourism, positioning Spanish menus as a high index of international gastronomy. 

Carlos Cabrera, Monkey Group restaurant manager, describes the seafood on the menu at The Oriental Monkey Sushi & Sake Lounge as “Abundant, Exotic, Fun Creations.” Dishes include Scallop with Cream of Yellow Chili and Fermented Cabbage on Lime, Tex Mex Tuna Tartare with Tomato Marmalade, Ginger, Garlic Chilli, Coriander and Lime, Kerala Prawns with Coconut and Lime, and White Fish Ceviche with Citrus, Coconut and Fresh Herbs.

Víctor Martínez and Ana Bernal Fernández at restaurant El Barril de Goya de Madrid won a Golden Fishhook for their recipe Cuttlefish Meatballs with a Touch of Saffron. Part of Grupo Oter’s classic and modern seafood restaurants that employ nearly 500 in-house trained caterers, El Barril de Goya is one of 18 group establishments creating seafood rice dishes for restaurant or take-out service. 

With its “unique daily supply network” from the coastal towns of Burela in Lugo province, Navia in Asturias, Huelva in Andalucía, Santa Pola in Valencia and Javea in Alicante, Grupo Oter sees diners increasingly selecting sole, monkfish, grouper, turbot, sea bream and hake.

Diego Domínguez, head chef for Grupo Combarro luxury seafood restaurants Sanxenxo in Madrid’s upmarket Barrio Salamanca, and Combarro, top of the agenda for the city’s rich and famous, was recently named president of the Association of Young Spanish Restaurateurs. Domínguez insists on both establishments “buying seasonal products for maximum freshness and size, at auction where there’s the best produce, under a highly supervised quality selection criteria, and where all products have their own tracking guide.” 

As his select clientele voice concerns about seafood sustainability issues, Domínguez identifies a trend in diners’ tastes for “strictly seasonal products caught within their legitimate timeframe,” largely sourced from Galicia. Highlights include Nécora crabs or gooseneck barnacles de la Ría and boiled or grilled European lobster. 

Meanwhile, Madrid’s hip two-Michelin Star restaurant Gastro features only two fish dishes on its menu in keeping with what chef/proprietor Sergi Arola Gastro says is a “moral debt to the sea.” Trained in Catalunya under world-renowned chef Ferran Adrià, Gastro only sources ingredients such as smoked salmon from the United States or Canada and supports the trend for sustainable species. 

“While five years ago there would be five or six fish on the menu, today diners and restaurateurs should look for less fashionable fish to eat. Oily fish such as sardines and herrings are great,” says Gastro. 

Spain’s trendsetting winning streak is reflected in Andalucía’s only two-Michelin Star Restaurante Calima in Marbella’s 5 Star Hotel Gran Meliá Don Pepe, Málaga, where hypermodernist head chef Dani García serves an eclectic “Menu Oximoron 2012” comprising Cañailla Ceviche, Boquerone’s Stall (anchovies), Roteña’s Redbranded Seabream, ‘Gacha-Miga’ of Crab and Devilfish with Fried Aubergine.

Back in Barcelona, Bigfish Raw Bar in the Born district serves seafood with a Japanese touch, sourcing supplies direct from owners Joan Soler and Gemma Madir’s fish stall in the upscale Market Galvany in Sant Gervasi. 

“We work only with absolutely fresh fish. Our hands give the best cooking treatments to different types of fish. Market Galvany is in a wealthy neighborhood boasting an educated, demanding clientele, and as the trend for Japanese cuisine expands, it has normalized raw seafood consumption. Our audience enjoys good food and taste sensations from our variety of sushi, such as rice with lobster or traditional cooked sea bass,” says front-of-house manager Astar Sebastia of the Bigfish menu. 

Joan Manubens, restaurant manager at El Passadís del Pep in Barcelona’s Pla de Palau, sees a steady stream of regular local customers who favor the simplicity of clams, shrimp, Norway lobster and the species of lobster Spaniards call langosta. Significantly, there’s no menu available, only the fresh fish the restaurant buys daily.

Retailers add value to low-cost imports 

In his report on the Spanish fresh seafood market published in July, José Fernández-Polanco, marketing research professor at Cantabria University, concludes that while “prices of species with large imports [sea-caught hake and anchovy, farmed salmon] have decreased or moderately increased even in periods of local supply shortage, retail prices experienced less variations than producers’ or wholesalers’. Value added by retailers has increased in species with large imported supply and decreased otherwise.” Low levels of value-added product for domestic seafood indicate retailers’ high demand for domestic products, instead adding value to lower-priced imports. 

With 1,356 supermarkets in 46 Spanish provinces, Mercadona’s Rafael Berrocal, managing director of meat and seafood purchasing, highlights the company’s commitment to boosting productivity in the fish sector since signing open-ended Good Commercial Practice Agreements with the Provincial Federations of Fishermen’s Associations of Valencia and Castellón, and the Fish and Seafood Producers’ Organizations of Marina Alta and Alicante. 

Judging the 2012 Seafood Prix d’Elite new products competition at the European Seafood Show in April, María Robles Santos, fish purchasing manager at Spain’s Grupo EROSKI, knows what makes or breaks a product. “Quality at the best price, guaranteed freshness based on the product’s technical sheet, and reducing the time between species’ capture to sale by EROSKI store fishmongers.”

Headquartered in Biscay with 1,000 stores nationwide, EROSKI extended its Andalucía franchise throughout 2012, opening eight supermarkets at the beginning of the year, 20 more by the end of the year, taking its regional store count to 54.

In February 2012, in addition to becoming Spain’s first distributor to stock Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified fresh hake — sourced from South Africa and sold as breaded fillets, burgers and fish sticks — EROSKI extended its sustainability policy to all of its aquaculture suppliers, requiring each to ensure species’ optimal conditions within the ecosystem, meet audited specifications and undergo effective monitoring from cultivation to processing.

An effective supply chain is key, according to Alcampo hypermarket’s Marta Peñalver. Operating 54 centers nationwide and in Spain’s Canary and Balearic Islands, “The best quality fish and ingredients at the best price, and our commitment to society, the environment and sustainable species have paid off. In supporting local fish suppliers and developing promotional campaigns with partners across the country, we emphasize the importance of selling seasonal seafood, best expressed in the organoleptic qualities of bonito tuna, cod, blue fish such as mackerel and mussels.” 

With the growing trend for aquaculture and Alcampo’s respect for biodiversity and species’ natural development, “we check all traceability from birth to slaughter, allowing us to provide customers with the highest standards of food safety and develop a whole new seafood segment under our Auchan Controlled Production brand,” says Peñalver.

From the point of issuing invitations to tender, Makro España hypermarket and restaurant service applies a rigorous quality audit to its selection criteria for every seafood purchase. “The primary customer is the hospitality sector,” explains Roberto Rubio, head fish buyer. “For fresh fish, we stipulate same-day supply from inshore or coastal fisheries, latest catch dates from deep sea fishing and processing audits.” 

Recently, Rubio introduced guidelines in its Metro Group sustainability policy, including sustainable fishing gear, origins, permitted quotas and shipowners’ commitment policies.

“Our biggest-selling fresh species are hake, salmon, sea bream, sea bass, flounder, monkfish and turbot, the kings of national consumption,” says Rubio. “Asian panga is a recent good seller but it’s raised certain reactions. Sea globalization has displaced native seafood species due to price factors: American lobster, where Makro España leads the hospitality sector with 8 percent of the total national quota, or vannamei shrimp, have displaced some national seafood. 

“We see more products for restaurant and tapas menus with significantly lower average spend per customer,” continues Rubio. “In the hospitality industry, alternative, lower-priced fish are sought, sometimes a lower weight is required to keep within the price. The inability to source major stocks and the impossibility of funding leads to smaller formats and higher frequency purchases. Personnel costs make products with value added gain strength and raise interest where this factor was previously overlooked. It’s a continuous struggle between fresh and frozen fish to reach certain restaurant segments — specifically, due to frozen product improvements, the fresh fish supply chain has rationalized its business by improving production costs or reducing operating margins.”

While Spain’s retailers and restaurateurs try to move the bar on seafood consumption, some are worried about the 8 to 10 percent value-added tax increase on seafood imposed from the first of September of this year. ANMAPE President Manuel Pablos Leguspín says higher first-sale prices will force suppliers to increase prices to the end customer, leading to reduced sales with a negative impact on Spain’s entire industry, from retailers to restaurants. 

“I am convinced this will result in the opposite effect, i.e. lower tax collection,” he says, calling for the 4 percent rate applied to other super-foods considering the importance of fish in a healthy diet.

Contributing Editor Chris Dove lives in Málaga, Spain 

 

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