« June 2007 Table of Contents
Top 10 Species: Farmed salmon
Consistency helps species sales rise as consolidation maintains quality
By Thyra Porter
June 01, 2007
Atlantic salmon is praised by chefs for its flavor and
supply consistency, factors that make the farmed finfish a
staple for commercial operations ranging from smokehouses to
chain restaurants, as well as supermarkets and club stores.
All salmon - both farmed and wild - boast a plethora of
heart-healthy omega-3 oils, one reason salmon is the No. 3
seafood pick in the nation among consumers.
But it is consistency, consistency, consistency that matters
to those in the foodservice business and to home cooks as well.
Keen to that fact, farmed salmon producers are geared up to
deliver exact portion sizes, fat content and the perfect flesh
color to both restaurant and retail clients alike.
One of the keys to consistency is supply. Chile is the
largest supplier of fresh Atlantic salmon to the United States
and is increasing exports every year. In 2007 it shipped nearly
44 million pounds of fresh fillets to the United States from
January to March, compared with about 40 million for the same
period in 2006, according to the National Marine Fisheries
Service. Chile is by far the leader in terms of frozen fillets,
too, with 15 million pounds for the same period.
Canada is the next largest supplier of Atlantic salmon to
the United States, exporting some 2 million pounds of fresh
fillets for the same period this year, down from 2006 when it
exported nearly 4 million pounds in the first three months of
the year. Imports of fresh whole fish from Canada are also down
from almost 39 million pounds in 2006 to less than 3 3 million
By far the greatest amount of farmed salmon, about 80
percent, is consumed fresh. Harvesting year-round makes fresh
salmon available every month of the year. The majority of
smoked salmon is farmed, according to the Salmon of the
Web site, which is an organization of
salmon-producing companies in Canada, Chile and the United
The reliability of farmed salmon makes a big difference to
professional chefs such as Steve Corry, chef/owner of Five
Fifty-Five, a Portland, Maine, upscale restaurant. Corry was
recently named to Food & Wine magazine's prestigious list
of the top new chefs of the year.
While many white-tablecloth restaurants opt for wild salmon,
farmed salmon is a regular on Corry's menu, thanks to an
increasing supply of organic product that achieve the quality
standards he is looking for.
Right now Corry sources farmed salmon from Ireland and
Scotland. He relies on his distributor, Portland-based Browne
Trading Co., to recommend a farm that doesn't use antibiotics
or artificial feed.
Increasingly, Corry, like other chefs and consumers these
days, is looking for salmon sources that are sustainable yet
"If you put wild salmon on the menu it demands such a high
price that we usually won't sell it all," Corry says.
"The quality of the farmed fish we get from Scotland and
Ireland is beautiful; all uniform size and very, very fresh. I
also know I can get it at any time, which is a real benefit,
but we do rely on the distributor to make sure that the fish
are raised in an environmentally sustainable and responsible
It isn't only upscale eateries like Corry's that appreciate
quality farmed salmon. Chain restaurants such as Applebee's,
Outback, Red Lobster and Bennigan's have long counted Atlantic
salmon as a top seller on menus where consistency is valued,
say the marketers who sell to those restaurants.
Indeed, producers love Atlantic salmon too: Prices, they
say, have stabilized from a year ago, according to Bert
Bachmann, VP and general manager of Camanchaca, which has
salmon farms in Chile.
Last month, fresh, PBO Chilean fillets were holding firm in
the mid-$3 to mid-$4 range, f.o.b. Miami, according to Urner
Barry Publications of Toms River, N.J. Fresh whole fish from
Canada was tagged in the low- to mid-$2 range, f.o.b. Seattle
Bachmann says sales of Atlantic salmon have continued to
increase over the past year.
"The product is available in very user-friendly formats,"
says Bachmann, as one reason for
"Sales have been good, demand has been strong and supply has
increased marginally," although he adds supply "is less robust"
than in previous years.
Overall, he adds, increased marketing efforts have helped
raise awareness of the health benefits of all types of salmon,
Perhaps no where is the adage "a rising tide raises all
boats" more true than in the Atlantic salmon world, says Rodger
May, owner of both Seattle-based American Gold Seafoods, which
raises farmed salmon, and processor Smoki Foods. Both firms are
on track to do $125 million in sales this year.
May notes that a flurry of news articles comparing the
health benefits of wild and farmed salmon have only served to
raise awareness of the category. He expects to see a continued
rise in sales for farmed salmon this year, thanks in part to
the media attention the species is receiving.
May agrees with Corry that consistency is a large part of
the success of farmed salmon in both consumer and commercial
businesses. "With farmed salmon the average home cook
consistently gets a salmon with 16 percent oil content, which
means she'll cook it the same length of time and it will come
out perfect, as opposed to getting a piece of fish with a 13
percent oil content one day and a 6 percent content the
Fish pieces cook at a different rate depending on the oil
content, he explains. May says a consistent oil content helps
home cooks become more confident in cooking salmon, because
their recipes will work the same way every time. And more
confident cooks eventually mean more Atlantic salmon sales at
the grocery fish counter.
That consistency also helps Atlantic salmon stake a claim in
the smoked salmon business, May says, where large-scale smoking
techniques depend on the producer knowing that the
will meet set standards (see Smoking techniques, page 28 and
Smoked seafood, page 38).
However, "Fresh sales is the market that keeps growing,"
says May, who adds that one major trend is a narrowing in price
between Norwegian and Chilean salmon. To that end, he says
Chile is more focused on the market for frozen fish, and will
ultimately be "a better executor in the frozen program
As consistency in texture is the value-added feature for
Atlantic salmon in the kitchen, consistency in price is the
reason commercial buyers turn to Atlantic salmon, Bachmann
"Pricing is almost in line with a year ago, and will
probably stay in this range," he adds. No one is talking about
a major rise because foodservice operations want pricing
stability, says Bachmann.
"There's more programming business now," he says of the
foodservice industry. "Most restaurant people don't want to
change the menu every week."
Keith Moores, president of F.W. Bryce in Gloucester, Mass.,
agrees. Now part of the Nissui family thanks to a buyout in
2006, F.W. Bryce has long been one of the largest importers of
Norwegian frozen farmed salmon portions into the U.S.
F.W. Bryce specializes in the marketing and distribution of
frozen fish and seafood into the United States and last year
became part of the growing trend toward consolidation in the
industry as the result of a stock purchase agreement with
Other recent major consolidation deals include Pan Fish
buying Fjord Seafood, a Norwegian fish-farming business, and
Marine Harvest, a joint venture between Nutreco Holding and
As with many of the consolidation deals in the aquaculture
business, the ability to leverage F.W. Bryce's strong customer
relationships with Nissui's global supply of quality seafood
means that there is a long-term goal of increasing the
worldwide market for Atlantic salmon, says Moores.
Even as U.S. consumers become more comfortable with both
ordering salmon on the menu and cooking it at home, producers
and distributors see Atlantic salmon as an increasingly
international product, thanks again to the consistency factor,
which has a geographic element.
Moores, for instance, views Chile as a prime exporter to the
U.S. market. Norway is geographically better positioned to take
on Europe, where an environmentally sensitive awareness to how
much fuel is expended when shipping a food source is far more
of an issue than it is in the United States, says Moores.
"Some of our bigger European buyers are very interested in
what our carbon footprint is," he says.
But in the end, Moores and his colleagues note the larger
challenge for the market is that wherever it is served, farmed
salmon ultimately must compete with other protein sources for a
place on the dinner plate.
Again, that goes back to being dependable all the way down
the supply chain, from the farm, to shipping, to the
"If a restaurant group is serving other proteins, execution
of a strong business model is imperative," Moores notes. "It
means making sure that inventory flows predictably and that a
product needs to perform in the same way every time."
Thyra Porter is a freelancer writer in Cape Elizabeth,