Demand for Norwegian salmon in Thailand continues to grow with more than 20,000 tons imported from Norway in 2021.
The Norwegian Seafood Council believes this is just the tip of the iceberg with new products and sales channels along with rising brand awareness expected to reel in more consumers. Norwegian salmon is now pervasive throughout Thailand. Central Food Hall and Tops Supermarket, two of the country’s leading supermarkets, carry it while countless Japanese restaurants, including ZEN and Sushi Den, proudly boast of using salmon from Norway.
“Thailand is a highly interesting and trendy market. Consumers really love Norwegian salmon due to its versatility. It can be used for both Western and Asian dishes, including Thai ones,” Mr Asbjørn Warvik Rørtveit, Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC) Director, SouthEast Asia, says. “The demand for high-quality food products in which a country of origin serves as a source of trust has pushed Norwegian salmon to become the top-of-mind food choice for Thai consumers. This is on top of its already high popularity in the market due to the high density of Japanese restaurants in urban areas.”
A love of Norwegian salmon has created a surge of demand in the Kingdom. According to NSC, export rose by 43 percent in volume this year when compared to 2020 and are up by 29 percent when compared to 2019, the most recent pre-COVID-19 year. “Demand for Norwegian salmon is driven by increases in both home-cooking and ready-to-eat meal consumption as the public has placed greater emphasis on their health and food safety during the pandemic and convenience during the lockdown,” Mr Rørtveit notes. “Thai consumers are becoming more health-conscious while also keeping up with the trend when it comes to food. Norwegian salmon is the perfect product for Thailand because it is trendy yet healthy.” Based on the import numbers, Mr Rørtveit estimates that salmon consumption among Thai consumers has increased by 10-15 percent in 2021. Obviously, this did not happen by accident. NSC has been active in both educating the market and making it easier for people to find goods. In both cases, the key was to find strong partners who help the Council connect with a local audience.
“NSC’s strategy is to establish relationships in the local market. Over the years, we have had successful campaigns with our retail partners, including Thammachart Seafood and Central Food Retail, as well as major Japanese restaurants, such as ZEN and Sushi Den,” Mr Rørtveit reports. “We are also working with quick-commerce platforms like Grab and LINE Man.” Additionally, NSC has extended education efforts to the grassroots level where influencers and other media help spread the word about Norwegian salmon and various seafood products. “We have partnered with social influencers such as Bon Jakobsen and Bebe Fit Routine as well as media outlets such as The Cloud,” Mr Rørtveit states. “Recently, we focused on educating consumers on how to cook Norwegian seafood at home by partnering with popular shows, including The Big Kitchen and, Pholfoodmafia, and community page – Japan With Us. These pieces featuring Norwegian salmon, fjord trout, and Norwegian saba provided consumers with ideas on how they could use Norwegian seafood in different kinds of dishes. One of the goals was to show the public how easy it is to cook at home.”
The initiative took on greater importance because of COVID-19 restrictions which prevented people from dining out. As seen by the salmon consumption estimates, the results have been positive. “The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the home cooking and online trends, shifting the market landscape that was once heavily dependent upon dining out,” Mr Rørtveit details. “Now Thai consumers have learned to cook more at home and integrate Norwegian seafood as a healthy food option.”
This trend has been supported by a shift in marketing strategies from NSC. With more people cooking, it was important to have easy access to Norwegian salmon via platforms they were already familiar with. “We have shifted our marketing strategies towards online touchpoints by tapping into joint promotional campaigns with Grab, LINE Man, and other retailers who have strong online presence such as Central Food Retail and Thammachart Seafood,” Mr Rørtveit explains. “We have also launched online advertisement to increase our exposure on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.”
Results have been impressive and should continue to grow moving forward. As Thailand moves out of lockdown and potentially welcomes tourists again, demand is expected to rise in the coming months. “Now that consumers are familiar with ordering seafood online, sales generated from both newly opened eateries and online channels will grow during the last quarter of 2021,” Mr Rørtveit says. “If Thailand can reopen to tourists and travelers, this will help increase sales even further. Our research shows that up to 20 percent of consumption came from this group.”
More Than Salmon
While Thailand’s love of salmon shows no signs of abating, NSC believes this is only a start. The potential for Norwegian seafood exports to Thailand is great with opportunities available when it comes to both products already popular in the country and ones that may not yet be accessible. “There is definitely more room for growth for salmon, fjord trout, and saba exports to Thailand,” Mr Rørtveit notes. “However, Norway has many seafood products to offer. What we have promoted in Thailand is just the tip of the iceberg. We aim to introduce new products to our potential retail and restaurant partners and get them to see the quality and the taste. Hopefully, this will create new demand among their customers.”
NSC has also identified challenges that need to be overcome as it relates to public perceptions of certain fish. For example, saba is popular among Thai consumers although there is some confusion over where it originates from. “Norwegian saba is a promising seafood product that we are trying to promote. It is used widely in Japanese restaurants and has gained more popularity because of its juicy taste and nutritious quality. However, our challenge is to establish Norway as a seafood nation and battle the perception that saba and salmon are from Japan,” Mr Rørtveit points out. He continues, “Over the years, we have seen a rise in recognition of the ‘Seafood from Norway’ origin mark and Thai consumers are paying more attention to the source of the food they purchase.”
One of the new seafood products NSC hopes to introduce in Thailand this year is shellfish. Norway’s largest value growth during the first six months of 2021 came from crustacean product exports with June being the best month on record for Norwegian shellfish. “We are planning to promote Norwegian shellfish this year targeting high-end restaurants in Bangkok. Norwegian shellfish hasn’t established a steady presence in the market which makes it difficult for restaurants to import due to small orders,” Mr Rørtveit says.
In 2019, NSC relocated its regional office from Singapore to Bangkok. Mr Rørtveit recalls the move as being significant. Not only did it reflect the council’s confidence in the potential of the Thai market, but it allows for a better connection with local consumers. “Thailand is a very exciting market that has grown rapidly and has become the most important export market for Norwegian seafood in Southeast Asia,” Mr Rørtveit explains. “My mission is to teach Thai consumers, once and for all, that salmon comes from Norway. We will continue to work hard to have clear visibility in the market over the coming years.”
Establishing Norway as the country of origin for seafood products is just one aspect of NSC’s long-term goals in Thailand. Mr Rørtveit cites providing high-quality seafood and promoting sustainability in production as other important aims the council is working towards.
- The Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC) is a public company owned by Norway’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries tasked with marketing Norwegian seafood abroad
- 20,100 tons of Norwegian salmon were imported to Thailand from Norway in 2021, of which 18,400 tons were fresh air-flown products
- According to NSC estimates, salmon consumption among Thai consumers has increased by 10 -15 percent in 2021
- NSC is partnering with Thai social influencers and media outlets to promote cooking Norwegian seafood at home
- Norwegian salmon is now available on quick-commerce platforms like Grab and LINE Man
- NSC hopes to introduce shellfish in Thailand this year and will focus this effort on high-end restaurants
- In 2019, NSC relocated its regional office from Singapore to Bangkok
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