Craig Morris , September 29, 2023
Annual Meeting Panel Talks about How to ‘Bring Sexy Back’ to Surimi
SEATTLE, Wash.— Linking surimi seafood to Japanese culture and Asian flavors and tapping into trendy, affluent and ‘foodie’ consumers with innovation and new messaging will be the key to increasing consumption of Wild Alaska Pollock surimi seafood, say expert panelists this morning at the fifth Wild Alaska Pollock Annual Meeting hosted by the Association of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers (GAPP) at the Four Seasons, Seattle, today. Panelists from Aquamar, Angulas Aguinaga and the University of Oregon, moderated by Urner Barry’s Angel Rubio, talked of the opportunity to overcome consumer perceptions around Wild Alaska Pollock surimi seafood and build global demand for high-quality surimi seafood going forward.
“Surimi is a high-quality protein, it’s very affordable compared to other proteins, and it’s extremely versatile. The way we’re approaching surimi now is that we need to redefine the way we present surimi to consumers,” said Mikel Grande, Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer at Angulas Aguinaga. “The baby eel categories [made with surimi seafood] here in Spain are now mature. We need to become sexy again and get into those consumer trends that are new and popular.”
While earlier in the morning, GAPP Director of Industry Relations, Partnerships and Fishery Analysis, Ron Rogness, spoke of surimi continues to be primarily an export market with last year having the highest percentage of exports since 2018; panelists talked about the unmet opportunity in the domestic market and the powerful trends around Asian culture and cuisine, especially in the U.S. and Europe and how tapping into those trends to engage consumers could help drive demand.
“Surimi had a very healthy year in 2021; even a healthy year compared to other commodities in COVID, and a lot of that was due to the resurgence of sushi and that’s a nice segment for us to rely on,” said Amin Nabli, Chief Operating Officer at Aquamar. “In the U.S., there’s more of an appetite to link surimi to sushi, so that consumers don’t think of it as imitation crab but think about it as a surimi product they’re familiar with, that they eat in sushi. We can build on that.”
“We’re trying to link it [surimi seafood] much more to Japan as a country,” said Grande. “Japan has become very popular in the European culture; linking their culture to people in Spain and beyond to people with high economy, high gastronomy—that they believe the Japanese culture provides—improves the perception and excitement for consumers here in Europe about surimi.”
Panelists also talked about new innovation and learning from other manufacturers around the world in terms of product development and formulations.
“I haven’t tasted it yet but there’s a new omlette made with surimi that’s selling very well in convenience stores,” Jae Park, Professor of the Surimi School at the University of Oregon, told attendees. Park also spoke highly of fried surimi products, joking that with surimi being so low-fat, even a fried product could be a healthy option for consumers.
“Product innovation plays a huge role in attracting people to the category; we can learn a lot from Europe and their integration with cheese, bacon, and more. We can look at other markets and learn from them and try and bring some innovation to the [US] market,” noted Nabli.
Perhaps more than innovation, all panelists underscored the importance of proper nomenclature, of education and of repositioning surimi as real seafood, from real fish that is healthy and sustainable.
“GAPP has done a tremendous job to promote Wild Alaska Pollock. I think marketing efforts [around surimi] and consumer education is key; teaching them that we’re harvesting Wild Alaska Pollock from clean water, as sustainably as possible,” said Park.
“On the messaging, there is something related to not just health but the functionality associated with consuming surimi—the level of protein, omega, low-fat, I think there are many elements that we can tackle and reinforce as our messaging,” said Grande. “We’re working a lot with dieticians and nutritionists to help us disseminate these more technical health aspects and be able to reach consumers from both sides.”
“The consistency in the quality [of Wild Alaska Pollock surimi] is amazing and everyone in the industry has done a tremendous job honoring the quality,” said Nabli. “Beyond quality, the story around sustainability and the story around the Wild Alaska Pollock, the name Wild Alaska Pollock, when we go to our customers now, they recognize that name and that story and that’s powerful.”
The meeting once again brings together representatives across all segments of the Wild Alaska Pollock industry for a day-long agenda at the Four Seasons, Seattle. GAPP would like to thank its current sponsors: USI Insurance Services (Title Sponsor); Alaska Airlines, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Arctic Storm Management Group LLC, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., Beck Pack Systems, Glacier Fish Company, Global Seas, and UniSea (Gold Level Sponsors); American Seafoods, Aquamar, Gorton’s Seafood, Highland Refrigeration, Lafferty’s EMS, Marine Stewardship Council, NORPEL, Port of Seattle, Trans-Ocean Products, Trident Seafoods, Urner Barry and Westward Seafoods (Silver Level Sponsors); Alaska Marine Lines, Alaskan Observers, Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association (APICDA), Baader Food Processing Machinery, Clark Nuber, Global Seafood Alliance, Golden Alaska Seafoods, High Liner Foods, ICR, Inc., Islandsbanki, Ketchum, Northwest Farm Credit Services, and Petro Marine (Bronze Level Sponsors); and Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, Angulas Aguinaga, Bank of America, Coastal Villages Region Fund, Neptune Snacks, Perkins Coie LLP, and Restaurant Depot (Supporting Sponsor).