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Special Feature: Smoked salmon

Once-stagnant category looks for innovative new products

By Lauren Kramer
June 01, 2010

Perceived by consumers as a special culinary treat, smoked salmon is less popular than fresh salmon, and has a lower consumption frequency.

"Primarily, it's used for special occasions, which would explain its household penetration of about 36 percent, versus 60 percent for fresh," says Jean Lamontagne, VP of marketing for True North Salmon, based in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick, the operating arm of Cooke Aquaculture.

Despite the limited penetration, the smoked fish category has experienced growth. According to the Perishables Group, a Chicago-based market research firm that tracks and analyzes retail sales data of fresh foods, for the 52 weeks ending Jan. 31, the average dollar sales for smoked fish were up 1.7 percent.

The key to increasing the consumption of smoked salmon is to create new, innovative food products that correspond to everyday or high-frequency occasions, he says. Apart from new players entering the field and changes to packaging, the smoked-salmon category has seen very little innovation in the last decade. But that appears to be changing with a series of new products 
entering the market.

Ducktrap River of Maine in Belfast launched smoked salmon pinwheels last fall, while MacKnight Smoke House in Miami won the best new product award for its smoked salmon bacon at the International Boston Seafood Show in March as well as April's Prix d'Elite product competition at the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels, Belgium.

Steven Fishman, VP of sales for MacKnight, says the bacon, which launched in foodservice and retail packs in May, is poised for success.

"We take salmon, cure it with maple syrup and smoke and dry it for 48 hours, a much longer process than you would do for traditionally smoked salmon. Then we slice it and put it in the frying pan," says Fishman. "It fries up really crispy and smoky, with a sweet flavor that makes for a great salmon bacon BLT sandwich, or a perfect accompaniment to breakfast eggs. And it has better health benefits than traditional bacon, with no trans fats."

Despite increased popularity of fresh, wild salmon, the majority of smoked salmon on the market is farmed. Ninety-five percent of the salmon used by MacKnight Smoke House is farmed and all the product smoked by True North Salmon is farmed. At Ducktrap and Brockton, Mass.-based Spence & Co., however, wild product has been gaining 
in popularity.

"Today, 85 percent of our salmon is farmed product, but two years ago our wild smoked salmon constituted only 5 percent," says Don Cynewski, GM at Ducktrap. "Wild smoked salmon is gaining in popularity due to consumer demand, and also due to new product development on our part." The company launched three new retail flavors of hot-smoked wild salmon in the last two years: Cajun, apple and Asian.

Twenty percent of the salmon smoked by Spence is wild, a number that has been growing as consumers become more aware of what they want, says Gerry Stewart, production manager.

"The public is better 
informed and therefore they're making choices as to what suits their lifestyle," says Stewart.

There used to be a large discrepancy in the price of wild vs. farmed salmon, but that's no longer the case, Cynewski says.

"Due to problems in Chile, farmed salmon has increased considerably in price, so there's no longer much of a difference in the two," says Cynewski.

Ducktrap sources wild sockeye salmon from Alaska, while its farmed fish is imported from Norway. The company's products include hot- and cold-smoked product in farmed and wild salmon, as well as house-smoked flavors in pepper and pastrami.

At True North Salmon, the difference lies in the quality of the salmon, Lamontagne says.

"Because our premium salmon is made with our own, locally grown salmon from Maine and Atlantic Canada, we can get fresh salmon into our smokers in Prince Edward Island. We harvest daily so some can actually be out of the water and into the smoker within a day or two. Smoked salmon is like any great food creation: The most important thing is to begin with the freshest ingredients," says Lamontagne.

True North markets its own brand and also produces
 private-label products for retail and foodservice. The best-selling flavor is plain, but the company also offers pepper smoked, dill and gravlax varieties.

Spence launched wild smoked salmon pinwheels with cream cheese and chives two years ago. As it looks to the future, the company is focusing on reducing its carbon footprint and using biodegradable, compostable packaging and sourcing from sustainable fisheries. "We want to work with fish farms that are in tune with low pen densities and ethical husbandry methods," says Stewart.

The biggest concern consumers have with smoked salmon is quality.

"Only 27 percent of consumers perceive it as being expensive. Retailers should understand that the smoked salmon consumer is an elite food enthusiast who is looking for quality and will recognize it when it's served up," says LaMontagne.

 

Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia

 

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