Now that Norwegian grocery retailers have begun to sell fresh, pre-packed cod, sales have soared. Between 2013 and 2015, sales of cod rose by almost 50 percent.

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  Oddny Johnsen

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Researchers based at Nofima have studied the matter together with an industry analyst from Nordea Bank, and have concluded that the megatrend currently dominating grocery retail – with consumers showing a preference for healthy, convenient food choices – has helped new cod products find success among shoppers. During the last three/four years, it has been possible to purchase fresh, pre-packaged cod fillets either as pieces or whole loins in grocery retailers.

Up until three years ago, Norwegians’ fresh cod purchases consisted almost exclusively of whole fish or cod cutlets from the fresh fish counter. It still remains the case that Norwegians prefer to purchase fresh, loose cod from the fish counter during the cod season, but the rest of the year now displays even sales of pre-packed chilled cod. Sales of these products are highest in December-January and April-August.

Low prices and product development

Of significance in the context of this sales development is the fact that the price of cod fell dramatically from 2012 until summer 2013, while fishing quotas were high. The arrival of pre-packed fresh fish in grocery retailers, combined with the low price, resulted in a surge in the popularity of cod dinners.

“Periods of low raw material prices, product development and demand explain the substantial sales growth for packaged fillet products in Norwegian grocery retail. The proximity to the market is advantageous to Norwegian producers and explains why we can expect them to dominate the market in the future,” states senior researcher Geir Sogn-Grundvåg from Nofima.

He has collaborated with Nordea Bank’s industry analyst for seafood, Finn-Arne Egeness, and researcher Morten Heide from Nofima to investigate how sales of pre-packed cod have developed among Norwegian retailers in recent years. They have also looked at how retail chains and their suppliers solve the challenges related to seasonal fishing variations.

Processing in Norway

With regard to frozen cod products, the majority of what is offered on the Norwegian market has been processed abroad. This also entails that the fish has been frozen two times. The researchers agree, however, that for fresh and chilled products, it is an advantage that the processing takes place in Norway.

“Proximity to the market is crucial in the production of chilled fish fillets. Norwegian operators dominate the category domestically and foreign competition is all but non-existent,” says Egeness.

In order to maintain low prices while keeping shelf life as long as possible, Norwegian producers have made the intelligent move to process fresh products either on board the fishing vessel or directly when the fish is unloaded on land. The products are frozen after being processed and are thawed only when they are en route to the grocery retailer. This results not only in a better and more even security of supply throughout the year, but also contributes to reducing food waste at the retailer, as the products benefit from a longer shelf life. Blind testing also indicates that consumers do not differentiate between chilled fresh cod and thawed fresh cod.

“To succeed with genuinely fresh products in this category, you either have to sell the product when the fish is in its optimum condition or to develop premium products that leverage the customers’ willingness to pay,” say the market analyst and researchers.

Even sales

Studies show that customers attach little importance to whether or not it is cod season when choosing pre-packaged products. Sales are relatively even throughout the year, seeing only a minor downturn during the high season for cod fishing, i.e. when consumers have good access to unpackaged fresh cod.

“It should be possible to work further on product development and differentiation to diversify demand,” say the researchers. “For example, there is the potential to differentiate between fresh and frozen raw materials, fishing method, provenance and so on, and of charging different prices for products depending on which raw materials these are based on.”

Domestic sales of pre-packed cod by month.
Domestic sales of pre-packed cod by month. (Norwegian Seafood Council/GFK Norway/Europanel)

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