Brazilian supplier Noronha Pescados is launching what it says are the first salmon, cod and pollock fillets from Alaska to be sold directly into Brazil.
CEO Guilherme Blanke plans to launch the seafood fillets in large retail stores such as Walmart at the end of June.
"This is our first import from Alaska and also the first shipments coming to Brazil from this origin," Blanke told Undercurrent News the day before he jetted off to Alaska for a tour of Ocean Beauty's plant for more education on the products.
Noronha, a 40-year-old Brazilian distributor, plans to process the fish at its plant in Brazil.
Brazil's booming middle-class has sparked much anticipation that its seafood consumption will follow suit.
Brazilians still don't eat much seafood -- at 10 kilos per capita, their seafood consumption is much lower than the world average (17 kilos per capita in 2010). It is also much smaller than their beef consumption, which is at 37 kilos.
However, it has been on a steady increase in the last decade, from six kilos in 2003 to nine kilos in 2011, and 10 kilos last year.
"[In recent years] everybody was looking for the Brazilian market,” Blanke said.
In testimony to this growth, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) launched its 21st international office in Brazil last year and is offering to help Alaska companies with Brazilian government approval for shipments.
Chilean salmon producers have also benefited from Brazil's demand. The producers recently designed and launched a marketing campaign -- dubbed "Salmon de Chile" - specifically for the Brazilian market.
Big suppliers, big volumes...big risk?
Blanke has commitments from Walmart, Pao de Acucar, a retailer partly owned by France's Casino, and the third largest listed retail company in Latin America, Cencosud.
While in Seattle last week, he sealed the deal for half a million dollars of Alaska seafood, sending 10 containers weighing a total of 250,000 metric tons on a 45-day journey to Brazil.
By the end of the year, Blanke plans to purchase six times the amount of Alaska seafood the company is purchasing now.
Making such a big financial commitment on a product that is known for being expensive is a risk that other Brazilian distributors are loathe to take, Blanke said.
“We had the courage to try first and we´ll make it happen, some people think we are crazy, but I know that it will work," he said.
Pushing seafood in a carnivorous nation
Although Noronha's Alaska seafood products will be more expensive than much of the Amazonian seafood species that are native to Brazil, Blanke believed consumers are ready to pay more for higher quality seafood.
"If it's presented and explained to the customer, they will keep buying because the product has better quality," Blanke said.
Noronha becoming increasingly global
Noronha Pescados' reach into Alaska is one of several international efforts the 40-year-old company has launched in recent years.
In 2011 the company began selling internationally, starting with the US, Argentina, Chile and Europe before starting to source from Alaska this year.
Its customers vary from large to medium to small supermarket chains, as well as hotels, hospitals, industries, industrial kitchens, restaurants and bars.
With the Brazilian market its focus, its main products have been hake; headless, peeled pre-cooked shrimp; sardines; pompano; dogfish and tilapia.
ASMI will be “crucial” to Noronha’s efforts to explain the value of wild Alaska seafood, Blanke said.
To start, Noronha Pescado will have a space at the ASMI booth at Sial, a food show in Brazil starting June 22. In the future, Blanke is eyeing a partnership with an Alaska supplier.