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Convenience and Promotion the Key, says Norwegian Guest

Thursday 9 October 2014

The political Landscape

Both the opening of the conference by the Prime Minister, John Key, and the political debate with the seafood spokespeople for the major parties, were focused on their political promotion.

John Key began by stating that as far as he was concerned New Zealand has the best seafood in the world – “without a doubt”. He told the conference that he has entertained guests in New Zealand, ranging from Hillary Clinton, to “Will and Kate” and they all loved the New Zealand seafood.

John Key said he believed that the environmental credibility of the seafood industry “went hand in hand with quality”, and the Quota Management System “was world class and the right way to approach your industry”.

Jane Clifton of the Listener gave the audience an insightful overview of the political landscape, while Hilary Barry’s introduction about her days fishing with her dad and providing the “burley,” gained a lot of laughs. Hilary’s light touch was a great foil for the more serious panel of politicians including Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, Damien O’Connor (Labour), Steffan Browning (Green) and Richard Prosser (NZ First).

Keynote Presentation

The keynote speaker was the managing director of the Norwegian Seafood Council, Terje Martinussen.

Seafood exports are Norway’s third most valuable export category, dominated by farmed salmon and worth $NZ11b a year. Norway is the world’s biggest salmon exporter with sales to more than 130 countries.

Terje told the conference that Norway was so reliant on the seafood industry that it took the depletion of its fish stocks in the 1960s and 70s very seriously and has rebuilt “all of them”.

He made a number of observations.

First, the selling point of convenience.

“You don’t want to spend too much time making the dinner, but you want to enjoy it. Seafood has a huge opportunity with convenience. Think of sushi – how simple and convenient it is.”

Second, promotion is hard work.

“We have to guide the consumer. It is not enough to put “ecological” or “sustainable” on the package. You have to work much harder on the issue in order to get the consumer realising that you are actually the one that is providing something that appeals to them, and for their family.”

The huge investment his council puts into market research of consumers gives the industry a facts-based insight into how it should promote its products.

“Number one and two are taste and health and we can see that environment and food safety are not that important when you ask the consumers … we will try and put more effort on making taste relevant to the consumer. We believe that we should inspire consumers to eat seafood out of joy rather than out of duty.”

Norway’s second most important export species is cod which Terje says is too much identified as just another cheap white fish. So the council rebranded cod as Norwegian Screi, set a standard for it and then set about promotion.

“We’re inviting the chefs to Norway. They will learn how to prepare it when it is really fresh … it takes some  years to get the benefits on what you are initiating in marketing.”

Terje says in this case the promotion has been going for 10 years and it is really only in the past two or three years that the industry has seen the preferred buying results coming through for Screi.

Terje’s presentation provided clear pointers for how we could progress a country of origin or provenance approach.

Setting the Benchmark

A key plank of the seafood industry’s five year strategy is setting the benchmark for science and innovation and being “internationally respected for our innovative and leading approach to science-based fisheries and aquaculture management” .

The Ministry for Primary Industries principal adviser of the Fisheries Science team, Pamela Mace, talked about the “Perceptions and Misperceptions of New Zealand’s Marine Fisheries”.

She dispelled the myth that the state of our fisheries is grim. Rather they are performing well, overall. She also suggested that maybe it’s time we looked at changing the traditional language used internationally, to describe the state of our fisheries. For example, the term “fully-exploited” could be change to “fully-harvested” or “fished at optimal levels”.

Ross Keeley, chief executive of SeaDragon, updated the conference on its growing fish oil business, including those from hoki and salmon. One of its biggest challenges is supply, with the company expecting to import in excess of $10 million  of unrefined fish oil over the next 12 months. SeaDragon is keen to get more local suppliers on board but the source needs to be EU certified.

Another great example of finding innovative uses for non-traditional products was presented by Dr Jim Gibbs of Lincoln University. This “genuine Kiwi innovation” is the brainchild of Kypros Kotzikas of United Fisheries where fish guts are turned into silage for agricultural use.
 
The project, co-funded by Seafood Innovations Ltd, has shown that fish silage used in cattle and sheep diets reduces methane gas emissions, increases the level of healthy unsaturated fats in milk and meat and reduces gut worms in cattle and sheep. The next exciting and challenging step is getting the product commercially ready for market.

Gary Taylor, chairman of the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) had a simple proposal for industry: a collaborative approach has got to be better than litigation and that getting key stakeholders in a room working towards consensus was the way to go. He said EDS was keen to work constructively with the seafood industry and would like to “be able to stand alongside the industry and endorse its environmental integrity”.

Telling the New Zealand Story

Dr Keith Woodford from Lincoln University took provenance a step further in relation to our largest export market, China. He said that  all primary producers in New Zealand should band together under New Zealand Inc. This would see all products available online and all would be of guaranteed provenance.

He recognised that this approach would require a strong partnership between government and industry but said the structure and focus would need to remain commercial.
 
Keith’s presentation led on nicely to Rebecca Smith of New Zealand Story who outlined a government initiative to help build a more consistent and compelling story about our country for exporters.

Lou Sanson, the new head of the Department of Conservation, outlined his plans for the department, including his desire to work in partnership with industry to find solutions to shared issues. Lou’s refreshing message was welcomed by the conference audience.

Our Premium Seafood

Alison Sykora, Sealord’s public affairs and communication manager, gave a snapshot of some of Sealord’s activity aimed at getting positive “cut-through” with the public. Not surprisingly, one example, was promoting great tasting, great quality, sustainable seafood with international chefs. Another is capturing people’s imagination and attention with clever visuals and use of technology.

What better way to finish up the conference with a cocktail function showcasing New Zealand’s finest seafood. The seafood was fresh, continuous and delicious.

Norwegian Terje Martinussen was the keynote speaker at the seafood conference.

Prime Minister John key told the conference that New Zealand’s seafood was the best in the world.

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