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PARIS, Oct 21 (AFP) - As busy consumers in the world's richer nations scour supermarkets for safe healthy foods that are pre-prepared and can be cooked up in minutes, fish is taking a front seat, but less and less of it is fresh.
At the SIAL global food fair in Paris this week, a two-yearly event that draws 135,000 visitors from across the world, a special seafood section was laid out, involving 300 exhibitors from many countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, Italy and France.
"We all know that for a balanced diet, we should eat fish at least twice a week" said a spokesman for Lithuania's Viciunai Group, "but to put it bluntly, who cooks fish nowadays? The answer is, hardly anyone".
Figures released by SIAL show a global increase in volume and value of fishing and fish farming products consumed in the home. But consumption of fresh fish fell 9.9 percent in France last year, while pre-packaged sea produce rose 11.4 percent.
Accounting for much of the splash for seafoods are smoked salmon, surimi and preserved tuna, the three main processed products.
As the fish industry concentrates its efforts in the prepared foods, pre-sliced sector, new products such as surimi have had considerable impact on the seafood market.
Surimi are processed filets of white fish, lightly coated with orange coloured paprika (or colouring agents), injected with extra flavour and transformed into nuggets or sticks that can be eaten cold as a snack-aperitif just like cheese sticks. Made of varying proportions of fish, eggwhites and emulsifiers, surimi can also be bought shredded to be tossed in a salad or sliced to add to a pasta or paella dish.
Peter Lammertyn, sales and marketing manager of the Viciunai Group, which with 18,000 tons a year has the largest sales in Europe of surimi, says its success of surimi is three-fold: "It has clear health benefits as it is a great source of protein, it doesn't require cooking, and it's child-friendly".
Sushi is another recent fish trend that are here to stay in France. Guillaume du Repaire, Marketing and Development Director for Yedo, the leaders in Europe for fresh and frozen sushi, said that eight years ago sushi came in on a fashion wave.
"Today there are over 400 Japanese restaurants in Paris, showing that sushis are becoming part of French life, and soon will be accepted just as easily as pizzas are."
His company sources its fish only from Norwegian fish farms, to ensure traceability. Fresh sushi products, with a shelf life of three days are sold in individual trays, chop sticks included. Frozen sushis are ready to eat after a minute and a half of defrosting in the microwave.
A new form of ready-cooked fish in a pouch, that just needs to be warmed up before serving, was being shown to prospective European buyers at SIAL by the Thai Union Frozen Products.
Tuna cooked in coconut milk for example, in pouches for individual servings, is aimed at the singles market. The pouches, previously used for pet food in France, are more environmentally-friendly than cans.
So what ever happened to the good old reliable frozen fish finger?
Sales in France are stagnant despite efforts to change the rectangular finger shapes into child-friendly teddy bears or star fish.
Cod is out because of fishing quotas, so sourcing slowly is changing to other species such as the equally bland tasting squid.
But the loss in favour of the fish finger no doubt has more to do with the now considered extremely long five-to-seven-minute frying time, rather than to the toddler's discerning palate.
"People want almost-instant food," Lammertyn said.
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