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Product Spotlight: Trout

Freshwater species a consistent option for chefs, retailers

 - Photo courtesy of Clear Springs Foods
By April Forristall
July 01, 2008

Rainbow trout is one of the most dependable food-fish on the market. Prevalent on dinner plates for more than a century, both production and demand are steadfast.

U.S. trout hatcheries date back to the 1880s, making it the oldest aquaculture sector in North America. Today, all rainbow trout sold in the United States is farmed, with Idaho growers representing more than half of all U.S. trout production.

"Rainbow trout as a species is well known and those who like it tend to continue to buy it," says Don Riffle, VP of sales and marketing at Clear Springs Foods in Buhl, Idaho. "We're finding that a lot of people in the restaurant community are looking for a good value, a stable-priced type product."

"[Trout] definitely doesn't seem to get the negative press that farmed salmon does," says Don Cynewski, general manager of Ducktrap River Fish Farm in Belfast, Maine.

The species rates as a "best choice" on Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch list, which is important to consumers, farmers say.

"There is absolutely a lot of discussion among customers about sustainability. We want to be environmentally sensitive and sustainably sensitive," says Riffle.

Trout has proven to be a very resilient product, standing the test of time with consistent sales year-to-year. Riffle, Cynewski and Kay Hardy, president of Idaho Trout Co., say production is steady.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Statistics Service, U.S. trout sales by growers totaled $87.5 million in 2007, an increase of 9 percent from 2006. Sales of trout 12 inches and longer totaled 59.7 million fish in 2007, up 14 percent from the previous year and the average price per pound was $1.15, up 4 cents from 2006.

Although production of 6- to 12-inch trout was down 20 percent from 2006, to 4.99 million, a 40-cent price increase pushed sales to $5.84 million, a 9-percent decrease from 2006.

But even the most established products aren't immune to the current economic situation, as producers are feeling the effects of increased fuel and feed costs.

"Some [feed prices] have more than doubled," says Riffle.

Ducktrap's Cynewski says that production costs have increased 15 percent in just the last year.

"Like any producer, we have increased costs due to oil imports, which affects our air shipments and trucking arrangements," says Hardy. "Feed costs have just exploded due to the commodity price increases."

But increased production costs have not dampened trout demand, as consumers are dining out less and cooking at home more.

"Demand is relatively steady," says Cynewski. "There haven't been any significant changes."

Riffle says Clear Springs is pleased with the retail market results and will continue to develop new products.

"People still want to eat fresh fish, they're just not eating out as much," adds Riffle. "For over a year now we've been doing more in the retail segment. We know there's more traffic in retail stores. But [customers] still don't want to cook or they don't have the time, so they're looking for something they can take home and prepare easily."

Idaho Trout's value-added retail accounts have also increased since last year.

"The product speaks for itself," says Hardy. "It's high quality, a good source of omega-3s and it's grown in spring water so methylmercury is not an issue."

Trout fillets are performing well in grocery stores because the species is quick and easy to prepare.

"It's very, very versatile," says Riffle. "You can put just about any kind of seasoning or spices and it will accept it very well."

Growers spent many years establishing a market for trout as a chef and consumer favorite, and with its solid aquaculture practices and versatility, the work should pay off for years to come.


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


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