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AQUACULTURE consultants Callander MacDowell have reacted with scepticism to reports suggesting the price of Norwegian salmon will continue to rise past the current level of NOK40/kg, arguing that consumers will be unable to foot the bill for higher priced fish.

In a newsletter issued on March 30, they argue that: "there appears to be a real disconnect between any conjecture of future price development and what is happening in the market place. It very much seems that salmon prices have become a commodity themselves without any relationship to the fish or its use.

"What the producers cannot see this Easter is that whilst they are sipping their champagne ordinary members of the public can buy whole Norwegian salmon in at least one UK store for just NOK 35.52/kg. Other stores have whole Norwegian and Scottish salmon priced at NOK 44.40/kg which is only just over the current producer price.

"Discounts of up to half price on fresh and smoked salmon have become a regular feature of the UK market in the run up to Easter. Whilst some commentators believe that salmon has a loyal following of shoppers who will pay whatever price for the fish, the reality is that if the salmon offering was not discounted at Easter, sales would probably flop.

"The French market used to be very similar to that in the UK with widespread promotion at both Christmas and Easter. We, at Callander McDowell, were in France last week to conduct our regular pre-Easter survey of the French retail sector and although we visit at the same time each year, we initially thought we had our made an error in our timings and that we had arrived in the wrong week. This was because it was impossible to believe that it was the run up to Easter based on the offerings on display. Johan Kvalheim of the Norwegian Seafood Council recently told IntraFish that salmon is popular at Easter amongst French consumers and sales of both fresh and smoked salmon peak at this time. It was difficult to marry up this information with what we saw in store.

"In the past, French stores have always started promoting salmon in the fortnight before Easter but this year, there was very little to suggest that any promotions would even take place. It is possible that stores had delayed any promotional activity until the few days before Easter but this would be leaving it late especially for smoked salmon. This year, the only promotions seemed to relate to the mountains of chocolate eggs and chocolate rabbits. Large promotional packs of smoked salmon were conspicuous by their absence.

"The best deal we found in France was fresh whole salmon for around NOK 60/kg but generally, rather than discounted prices, we found that the cost of salmon had risen considerably. This may be why there was little evidence of festive promotions.

"The standard prepack of two salmon fillet portions is now priced around NOK 170/kg in France although we did find one store group with a similar pack for NOK 237/kg. By comparison, the highest price for fillet in the UK is around NOK 170/kg with average prices typically about NOK 120/kg. The best deal for salmon fillet this Easter in the UK is just NOK 76/kg.

"There were a handful of promotions on smoked salmon in France but these were nothing like the usual Easter offering. French smokers had already warned that high raw material prices were going to impact on the price of smoked salmon with prices forecast to rise by over 55%. Perhaps, French stores realised that their shoppers would be unlikely to pay such a high price and chose to reduce their offerings this Easter.

"The reality is that whilst producers take advantage of high prices to reap the benefits of super-profitability, it is just a short-term gain. High prices will undoubtedly supress demand and cause prices to fall again. This repeated rise and fall will damage the market and does little to help the industry. It is in everyone's interests to aim for consistency and growth but it seems that producers have become too detached from the market to recognise how the market is changing and that loyalty to salmon is no longer guaranteed."

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