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Spotlight: Smoked salmon

Domestic producers defend market with high-quality product

By April Forristall
January 01, 2009

Smoked salmon is cherished all over the world because of its flavor. Different woods used during the smoking process impart a distinct taste and the salmon's fat content welcomes the process because the oils absorb and retain the flavor.

"We've tried smoking other [seafood] and it works well in some markets, but it's not overall like salmon," says Franco Nardini, 
 director of U.S. smoked salmon sales for Marine Harvest. "People are used to salmon, it's traditional and what you expect from a smoked product."

Steve Nicholson, VP of MacKnight Smoked Salmon, concurs. "It's always been a very widely eaten fish and people are more willing to try it," says Nicholson, adding that rising commercial availability due to increased and advanced production methods, as well as the influence of the booming sushi market have helped expand smoked salmon's market reach.

And it shows in the numbers. Miami-based MacKnight recently introduced a smoked salmon prosciutto-like retail and foodservicce product, generating 17 new accounts in just 10 days. "The market is loving it," says Nicholson.

Acme Smoked Fish of Brooklyn, N.Y., also recently launched the Ruby Bay brand of retail and foodservice farmed and wild smoked salmon.

The holiday season brings a boost in smoked salmon sales.

"It's very, very seasonal," says Nicholson. "As soon as people want a treat and have more money - from Thanksgiving through the Jewish holidays and Christmas it's very busy. Then it picks up again for Easter."

One edge for smoked salmon products is kosher certification.

"I think that people respect and are comfortable with products that are under kosher supervision," says Buzz Billick, VP of sales and marketing at Acme. "Not only consumers that may be Jewish or ethnic, but really all customers appreciate the extra time and attention to detail that is required [in kosher processing facilities]."

That level of quality also keeps U.S . suppliers competitive against lower-priced imports.

According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, smoked salmon imports from Chile through September 2008 increased by more than 440,000 pounds from the same period in 2007, along with increased imports from Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

MacKnight has lowered prices to "stay competitive," but Nicholson says the quality of the imported products can't compare.

Acme's Billick agrees.

"There are imports, but there are always imports," he says. "Today many of the imports available here are available for less. But it's not superior in taste or quality."

Due to concerns regarding listeria in imported smoked product, and the resulting U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspections, Acme's sales haven't been impacted by cheaper imports. Marine Harvest's Nardini agrees quality is what keeps customers coming back.

"If something is really giving you pleasure, it's difficult to stay away from it," he says.


SeafoodSource Assistant Editor April Forristall can be e-mailed at aforristall@divcom.com


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