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Levercliff Report Generates Food for Thought

Production of trout in the UK is increasing, according to a study by the Levercliff Associates, writes Patrick Smith, Chairman of the British Trout Association.

The remit of the whole survey was to ‘review the UK market for fish and shellfish and identify potential opportunities for Scottish products in UK multiple retailers and food services sector’.

The project was funded by the EFF to assist in the delivery of the Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture focussing on Scottish aquaculture producers. Nevertheless, the messages generated from this study do have application and relevance to the UK trout industry.

The study conducted by the Levercliff Association covered a range of methodologies including desk research, retail audits, menu analysis, trade interviews, fishing industry interviews, market analysis and strategy proposals.

Whilst this is only one report, and open to interpretation, some of the more salient points which can be derived from the report and associated presentation are as follows.

Production of trout has been increasing year on- year with the exception of 2005. Production also dipped in 2009, but still well-ahead of the levels achieved at the start of the decade. Scotland accounts for 56 per cent of production in the UK but, at consumer level it is not sold as Scottish with the majority branded as UK produced.

The bulk of the production is freshwater which has limited usage due to its size. UK trout producers are mostly supplying the product domestically with relatively small amounts exported.

Investment will be key in order to grow production which is considered by some as being erratic up until now. Due to finite resources the market has not been developed as fully as salmon – both domestically and internationally.

As far as the trout retail market is concerned, the UK market for Total Fresh Trout has been in long-term value decline. Sales have fallen sharply in the last year.

The market needs to be rejuvenated as volume sales have also fallen sharply and trout is in danger of losing its presence on the shelf to other fish species.

In the UK chilled trout market, unsmoked trout accounts for 83 per cent of value sales and smoked 17 per cent. Both segments are experiencing a strong decline in sales, with smoked sales falling sharply due to strong price increases. In the unsmoked market, value is falling faster than volume which indicates that consumers could potentially be downtrading in the category. The Levercliff report goes on to state that the key issues rising from the above are perceived to be:

  • The retail market needs to be managed effectively.
  • Trout, as a species, is under pressure in the retail sector.
  • Producers and processors need to be pro-active and develop the market to cater for consumer needs in offering good value products and to develop more value-added products to drive interest in the sector.
  • Scottish trout has established a good presence in the market but there are opportunities for further growth and to develop everyday sales for their standard trout and to ensure that the premium range is working effectively and to develop sales in other segments.
  • There are opportunities to develop sales geographically.

In the UK chilled trout market, it is perceived that the market is relatively under-developed and there are opportunities to widen the appeal of trout.

For example, only Sainsburys have a ‘good, better and best’ range of trout. The report suggests that there is an opportunity for a more-attractive product in the everyday sector. For example, at the time of writing there was no skinless trout produced in the everyday sector whereas some supermarkets have skinless salmon (and other species) in their everyday range. As such, a skinless and boneless fillet should bring in more users to the market.

There is very little value-added trout in the UK market. The current value-added trout market is worth an estimated £10.5 million and there is potential to develop greater sales than readyto- eat smoked trout with key focus on developing meals and trout in sauce which represents the largest value.

In the UK smoked trout sector, only two supermarkets (Waitrose and Sainsburys) account for the majority of the product and upmarket retailers account for the largest share of sales. In general, smoked trout is a niche product within the retailers which is not widely available.

The report also suggests that the smoked trout market is currently in decline and key retailers have seen a fall in sales impacting on the total market.

The section of the report covering trout in the foodservice sector suggests that trout does not appear on any current chain pub and restaurant menus. In an audit of menus of all Scottish Michelin starred restaurants, only one trout dish was found and the number of premium Scottish hotels serving trout is also low and this all goes to demonstrate that, in Scotland at least trout is not regarded as a fine dining product. There are obviously clear opportunities to develop usage of trout in high-end restaurants through promotion of the origin, species and quality.

When the survey looked at London restaurants, trout was ranked at joint 8th and has been found more-frequently but the fact is that trout still appears relatively infrequently on menus.

It is perceived to be a problem that chefs are not driving innovation at a foodservice level which means that there needs to be investment from producers to popularise trout within foodservice and to drive innovation and recipe development.

Mr Smith, Chairman of the British Trout Association said that whilst some of the observations made and conclusions drawn by the study may be disputed, they are thought-provoking and probably reflect what we all have been thinking and discussing over recent years. How we take on board the recommendations depend on whether we interpret them with a ‘glass half- empty’ or a ‘glass half-full’ attitude. Hopefully, most members will be in the latter category and will use this study as a catalyst for thought and act as a ‘springboard’ for revitalising and regenerating our industry over the coming years.

April 2012