At this year’s International Boston Seafood Show, look for versatility and affordability to be the catch of the day.

By Richard Turcsik

In a move reminiscent of that classic Folgers Crystals instant coffee commercial, Josh DeChellis, the executive chef at New York’s famed La Fonda del Sol seafood restaurant has secretly replaced many of the key seafood items used in the restaurant’s award-winning Spanish cuisine with Japanese substitutes. Yellowtail has replaced tuna in the grilled taco appetizer; shell-less crab legs surround the roasted cod; a diced Japanese fish cake is served with spicy chorizo, lentils and a poached egg; and the Spanish paella rice is flavored with salted squid innards and garnished with fresh squid.

“Most paella rice is just a vehicle to place the seafood on, but the way the flavor of the squid innards comes out and permeates the paella; it can just do wonders to a dish like this,” DeChellis tells Grocery Headquarters. “With Japanese seafoods you can make remarkably successful dishes with distinct, unique flavors and textures.”

DeChellis’ restaurant was one of two New York eateries chosen by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan (MAFF) to showcase Japanese seafood. It’s all part of a campaign to increase consumption of Japanese seafood in the American diet. Ten of Japan’s leading seafood producers will be exhibiting their wares at the Japanese Pavilion at the International Boston Seafood Show.

“The majority of the products are harvested in Japanese waters and all of the ingredients are handled and processed in Japan,” says Hidenobu Miz­uno, consul of the Consulate General of Japan in New York. “MAFF has launched a global campaign to boost the popularity of lesser-known Japanese ingredients. While many Americans are familiar with certain aspects of Ja­p­anese cuisine, such as sushi and tempura, our campaign aims to expand the American public’s awareness of other areas of Japanese dining.”

Louisiana is about to embark on a similar effort. The Bayou State is launching a certification program that seeks to educate consumers about its shrimp and other seafood. “The whole premise is to get our product out of the commodities market and have a premium branding, much like a Niman Ranch pork,” says Ewell M. Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Mar­keting Board in New Orleans. “We cannot compete on price against countries like Vietnam and China, but we can compete all day long on quality, heritage, the story, taste and the process.”

Hooking new customers

To increase consumption seafood marketers are stepping up the advertising.

“I still think promotion is key in seafood, from a lot of different facets,” says Larry Andrews, retail marketing director of Seattle-based Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI). “That can be everything from trying to incite someone to try a product with a cents-off coupon to promoting based on health, flavor profile or preparation. They’re all driving folks to pick up product.”

Alaska is promoting its seafood through the website. “We have six videos that tell people how to poach, sauté, steam and grill. We are trying to really aid retailers and consumers by showing them some simple preparation methods they can follow,” Andrews says.

To make it even simpler, ASMI has created an iPhone app where consumers can watch videos, select recipes and create a shopping list. “You can actually take your iPhone and go shopping and check things off your shopping list as you walk the store,“ Andrews says.

Andrews sees more prepared and semi-prepared items hitting the seafood department fresh and frozen cases. “Different ethnic profiles are popular, especially items that are already sauced and marinated. At least on the frozen side that is taking the guesswork out for consumers and making it easy and convenient,” he says.

Colorful trout

That’s exactly what Buhl, Idaho-based Clear Springs Foods is doing with its Seafood Perfections line of trout, swai (Pangasius) and Mahi dishes.

“Rainbow trout as a species is beginning to get a little bit better demand,” says Chris Howard, director of marketing. “A lot of that has to do with the price of salmon.”

Eleven different Seafood Perfections dishes will be sampled and displayed at the show, including Trout Cake with Roasted Vegetables, Almondine-Style, the kid-aimed Rainbow Trout Treasures and Rainbow Trout Sliders. “They are frozen and usually sold near the fresh seafood counter, but some are going into the frozen seafood aisle as well,” Howard says.

Baltimore-based Phillips Foods, Inc. is focusing on its core products, namely crab and crab cakes, at this year’s show. “We have done foodservice research that shows crab cakes are still very strong on menus,” says Honey Konicoff, vice president, marketing. “You would think that with the recession you’d see a decline in crab cakes, but they are actually as strong as ever. Upscale restaurants have fully embraced crab cakes and now you’re seeing them in midscale and even some QSR. That they are penetrating the QSR market says a lot. It means crab cakes are high on consumers’ radar screens.”

That’s why at this year’s show Phillips is promoting its new Deli Prepared Cakes, fully cooked, deli-compatible crab cakes. “We believe there is opportunity for more seafood in deli prepared,” Konicoff says. “These are fully cooked so they can be sold in the deli counter. They are shipped to the retailer frozen, slacked at the shelf and sold to the consumer refrigerated.”

Smoked salmon

With its famous Surimi, Bellingham, Wash.-based Trans-Ocean Products, Inc. is also a major player in the refrigerated case. It’s now increasing its presence with its Atlantic Smoked, Black Pepper Atlantic Smoked and Wild Sockeye salmon that it will be showcasing in Boston. “They are all cold-smoked, all-natural, so there are no preservatives,” says Mark Aaron Ross, Southeast & Gulf Coast regional business development manager/corporate chef in Trans-Ocean’s Chapel Hill, N.C. office.

“We launched them last year in test markets and they became the number-one salmon, so now we are going national,” Ross says. “They are shipped frozen and slacked out.”

Trans-Ocean is also entering the frozen shrimp business with what officials call “no-chem/natural” shrimp in four cooked and raw varieties that will be sold in one-pound bags.

It is also using the show to debut its Hokkaido scallops, imported from Japan. “They are like the best eating scallop there is,” Ross says.

Think sustainable

According to Gavin Gibbons, director of communications at the National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Va., sustainability is a key trend in 2010. “There is a trend of stores saying they are looking at responsibly managed fisheries and are going to do their best to source from those fisheries,” he says. “They are taking a really responsible view of sustainability, as opposed to saying there’s a one-size-fits-all solution to seafood sustainability issues.”

Another hot topic in 2010 is net weight, says Zach Krokos, national sales associate for Kirkland, Wash.-based Sea Port. “With people being more conservative in their buying power, net weight has kind of come back and reared its ugly head as an issue again,” he says. Sea Port is a 100% net weight house, meaning if you buy a case of Sea Port fish that weighs 10 pounds a retailer gets 10 pounds of fish. Other fish houses might have a 90% net weight, meaning the box contains only nine pounds of product. “The difference that you are paying for is ice,” he says. “On higher end products, like lobster, that can be a substantial price for ice. It is an issue that really needs addressing.”

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