Buon appetito!

Italians, noted for their sports cars and world class cuisine, have discovered a new addiction – salmon.

According to the latest report from the Norwegian Seafood Council, sales of the pink fish took off during the pandemic and they are now rising at one of the fastest rates in Europe. Sushi is, apparently, the new pizza.

The news was relayed at a salmon seminar at the beautiful Palazzo Delle Stelline in Milan in May, where grocery store owners met with suppliers and Norwegian industry officials to examine what has been happening in the past 12 months.

They also used the gathering as a crystal ball to look at what lies ahead.

Gunvar L. Wie, the Seafood Council’s representative in Italy, says Italians are consuming salmon more than ever before. And this is happening through a variety of channels including takeaways, home delivery and conventional stores.

He adds: “Salmon is also the fish that has gained the most new customers in the last two years. It shows [in] figures from reports presented during the annual salmon seminar in Milan in mid-June. The upward trend has continued, even now after the worst pandemic period is over.

“With the exception of May this year, Norwegian salmon exports to Italy have set new volume records every single month for the past 17 months.”

Italy was arguably the European country hit first and hardest by the pandemic. Everyone remembers the harrowing scenes from hospitals in the north of the country during the first months of the outbreak.

When Covid was at its worst, it significantly affected salmon exports to the country, says the Council.

But, according to the global market intelligence company Gfk which presented insights at the seminar, looking at the last two years as a whole, salmon has come out well from the pandemic period.

Gfk has looked at retail sales of salmon in the period from April 2020 to April 2022. The figures show that the growth in the number of new salmon customers, ie those who did not buy salmon before, is 8.4%. No other seafood category has had such a strong increase in new customers.

The figures also reveal that for those who already buy salmon, 15.4% are now buying more of it.

Gunvar L. Wie, Norwegian Seafood Council. Photo: Marius Fiskum / Norges sjømatråd

‘The new pizza’

Gunvar L. Wie explained: “It is said that sushi is ‘the new pizza’ in Italy. And sushi, with salmon as a favourite topping, has taken up more and more space on Italian restaurant tables.

“At the same time, Italians are diligent restaurant guests, both for lunch and dinner. However, much has changed in the wake of the pandemic.

“Naturally, both takeaway and home delivery increased sharply in the period 2019-2021, while restaurant visits fell.”

But Italian spending on restaurants outside the home has still not returned to normal, with spending almost 30% down on before the pandemic, according to analysis from the NPD market research group.

NPD has looked at how things have gone with salmon and other fish during this period and says: “Salmon, together with tuna, were the only seafood species that increased in the category takeaway and home delivery during this period.

“Last year, almost 40% of all fish that went to home delivery were salmon. This is an increase from 24% in 2019.

“Between 2019 and 2021, the proportion of salmon for takeaway also almost doubled. Of all fish that went to takeaway, the salmon share increased from approximately 13% to 24%.”

Wie believes some of the success lies in good traction from last year’s salmon campaigns in Italian media and shops: “The campaign effects were measured by Ipsos. They concluded that the campaign has had a significant positive impact on sales and new customers.

“But perhaps most importantly, we have managed to change the Italians’ thoughts on how salmon can be cooked and eaten in new ways, not just as sushi.

“Thanks to the sushi boom, the volume of Norwegian salmon exports to Italy has increased by 231% since 2010. With that, Italy has become Norway’s seventh largest export market for salmon.”

Canny consumers

Most Italians plan what to have for dinner before going to the store. This is shown by the latest consumer surveys by the Norwegian Seafood Council.

The surveys provide insight into everything from shopping habits and associations to seafood to where people shop and why they shop one item over another. The insight says a good deal about market trends in the years to come.

Wie says: “We also see that many Italians are interested in offers and discount coupons. They are easily influenced by campaigns and promotions.

“Most Italians have also become more concerned that the food they eat not only tastes good – it must also be healthy and sustainable. We must use this consumer insight to consolidate the strong position that salmon has gained during the pandemic, and to increase growth further.”

Norwegian salmon on sale in Italy