The Far East has a growing appetite for Scotland’s seafood - Natalie Bell

Natalie Bell, head of trade marketing for Asia, Europe and the Middle East at Seafood Scotland, shares why Eastern businesses are plating up more Scottish food.

Fortune has favoured the brave Scottish companies that blazed a trail in these new markets, says Bell. Picture: Contributed
Fortune has favoured the brave Scottish companies that blazed a trail in these new markets, says Bell. Picture: Contributed

With all that’s going on in the UK it is little wonder that home-grown companies are looking further afield for new business opportunities, with attitudes to long-haul exporting growing increasingly warmer. Despite pockets of smart thinking and careful planning in Europe, the well-worn paths to our neighbouring markets are seen to carry a higher than normal risk right now.

Going East was previously seen as pretty risky – with cultural, logistical, business and language barriers creating challenges, but in a complete turnaround places like Japan and China are now more popular for businesses looking to de-risk their operations.

In the seafood sector, this is especially apparent. Growing markets in Japan and China, and interesting emerging markets in countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, are capturing increased attention from Scottish processors and producers, and as a result Scottish seafood has never before been sent to so many places.

Natalie Bell is head of trade marketing for Asia, Europe and the Middle East at Seafood Scotland. Picture: Contributed

But how are we, and our produce, received in these markets? The answer is - increasingly positively. Over a couple of months this autumn, “Team Scotland” unleashed a focused campaign on east Asia, with Scottish seafood companies collaborating to create a strong presence at the Japan Seafood Show, China Fisheries and Seafood Expo, a Singapore food service visit, and of course, all-important trade events taking place around the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Roy Brett of Edinburgh’s Ondine made an appearance in Singapore, where local buyers attended an exclusive dinner showcasing Scottish seafood. Good old traditional Scottish fish and chips went down a storm at the RWC Yokohama Fan Zone.

'Scottishness seals the deal

Through presence such as this, and high-level buyer meetings taking place on the fringes, great things happen. The mood shifts in a way that can only be achieved through boots on the ground. The interest in Scotland starts with the provenance we can evidence, the quality and taste of the produce and our reputation for sustainability, then our “Scottishness” – that is the approach, friendliness, and passion evident from the Scottish companies - seals the deal.

And from hotel groups to restaurants to supermarket chains there have been many such deals done.

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One Scottish seafood company landed a “gamechanger” deal with high-street favourite, Genki Sushi, growing a pilot supply deal for 27 stores to 127 outlets across Japan. This contract was secured via distributor Shokuryu Co which supplies seafood to high-end hotels, restaurants and supermarkets across Japan, and originally attended a Showcasing Scotland event for global buyers at Gleneagles. This one deal has resulted in a 35 per cent increase in additional sales in Japan for the company and is the type of pivotal trade that carries a positive impact for other seafood suppliers, and indeed, other types of Scottish product.

Another contract sees Aeon, Japan’s leading supermarket chain, grow its interest in brown crab from Scotland to its six Hong Kong stores, an important piece of business that helps to expand the market for Scottish seafood beyond borders.

The range of species attracting interest in East Asia is growing, too. Of course, fresh salmon and mackerel are top of the list, particularly in Japan where their quality is prized among top sushi chefs. However, the halo effect from these behemoths, backed by consistent quality and taste, is helping trade in smoked salmon, scallops, langoustines, oysters, lobster, and razor clams, which are highly prized in Japan, also.

The resulting numbers are astonishing. The economic value of Seafood exports to the East (China, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore) from Scotland have risen by a combined 62 per cent since 2015. While China is undoubtedly the largest market, Japan is the fastest growing destination for Scotland with a rise of 124 per cent in the last four years. With currency and price fluctuations, tonnage perhaps presents a more conservative view of the growth.

However, at an increase of 32 per cent across the key eastern markets, Scotland is on the up whatever way you look at the figures. And it is suspected that these numbers will continue to grow, underpinning livelihoods and jobs all over Scotland, as well as funding innovation, collaboration and increased sustainability.

Fortune favoured the brave Scottish companies that blazed a trail in these new markets, and continues for the others that followed. But it’s no accident that seafood is Scotland largest food export, and second largest export overall (behind whisky). Companies in the sector work tirelessly to ensure that the taste, sustainability and provenance of Scottish seafood is second to none – and it seems that for now, foodies in the East are all too happy to have a bit of Scotland on their plates.