Gorton’s, Long John Silver’s ‘cautiously optimistic’ on cod

January 15, 2014, 1:04 pm

Executives from US seafood branded giant Gorton’s and restaurant chain Long John Silver’s both expressed “cautious optimism” about the current high quotas and competitive prices for cod.

Charles St. Clair, the chief marketing officer for Long John Silver’s, said the chain put cod back on its menu as an experiment in 2012 and made it a regular menu item in 2013, speaking on the value white fish panel at the Global Seafood Market Conference in Miami, Florida.

“We’re still taking a cautious approach”, he said, in reference to the fact Atlantic cod volumes in 2007 and 2008 were 500,000 metric tons less than they are now, with prices much higher.

In fact, the average price for a 4-ounce, double frozen, Atlantic cod loin processed in China was around $4.50 in September 2008 and was around $3.25 in September 2013, a decline of 27.77%.

Gregory Jeffers, the purchasing director for Gorton’s, the largest frozen seafood brand in the US, said his company does not use cod at the moment, but is looking at it.

The main raw material for Gorton’s is Alaska pollock, he said.

“In the mid-1990s, there was a lot of cod in US retail and foodservice. Now, pollock has come in and filled this role. Cod has the unenviable position of trying to get back in,” said Jeffers. “The questions are, how sustainable is the increase and can you retrain a consumer group that has got used to pollock?”

Gorton’s looks at the abundant volumes of cod as an “opportunity; there is no doubt about that”. Overall, he said the company is “cautiously optimistic”.

“Be confident”, said Frank Bodin, of The Hadley Company, which is supplying double frozen fish into the US from China, in response to the “cautious optimism” from both Jeffers and St. Clair.

Bodin, a Norwegian seafood sector veteran who has ended up based in the US, said the high volumes of cod should continue “for years to come”.

He called on companies such as Gorton’s and Long John Silver’s to take a lead on new product development when the price for cod is competitive.

Speaking to Undercurrent News after the panel, Bodin said the time to do this is now, not to wait until the price starts to rise.

“Wild fish are volatile in supply, that is the nature of the beast. But you have to be dynamic and ahead of the curve and keep a close view on where the product development openings are,” he said.

That is why the haddock price has gone so high, said Bodin. “Haddock was competitively priced, so people used it more and developed products using it.”

The total catch of Atlantic cod has gone from under 800,000 metric tons in 2007 and 2008, to 1.34 million metric tons in 2013, according to data presented at the National Fisheries Institute conference being held in Miami, Florida this week.

For 2014, the projected total catch is 1.35m metric tons. That is before the volumes of Pacific cod from the US and Russia, which are steady at around 420,000t.

Haddock volumes diving

The story on haddock is very different.

According to data from the Groundfish Forum, the world haddock catch was 428,000t in 2012. It will be 298,000t in 2013 and the projection for 2014 is 278,000t.

Prices have rocketed, as a result, although only to similar levels as 2008.

The price for a double-frozen, 8-10 ounce haddock fillet from China was around $3.20 in September of 2008, before dipping to around $2.70 in September 2010. The price was around $3.30 in September 2013.

Prices for headed and gutted (H&G) haddock have rocketed from $2,400/t, delivered China, to around $4,500/t at the end of the year.

When — and by how much — this price will decline is a major talking point in the whitefish sector.There are areas of the world — parts of the UK and the north east of the US, that want haddock irrespective of the price.

At the current level, it is assumed foodservice sellers are already moving out of haddock and retail will follow. Retail contracts in Europe are generally January-January, so the higher priced fish will only just be hitting consumers, he said.

“It’s funny how quick things can move,” said Bodin.

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