In the pink: Saudis’ love for seafood feeding Norwegian salmon sales

ALESUND: A growing passion for seafood in Saudi Arabia is helping to drive demand for Norwegian salmon, according to an industry official from the European nation.

Ingelill Jacobsen, project manager for emerging markets at the Norwegian Seafood Council, said exports of the fish to the Kingdom rose to $66.4 million last year.

With sales in the first eight months of this year exceeding $44.4 million, Jacobsen said she expected the full-year total to be even higher than in 2022.

Based in Tromso, the NSC is a public company owned by the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries. It has played a significant role in driving sales of salmon in the Middle East.

In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, sales of Norwegian salmon to Saudi Arabia totaled just $27 million, though that was itself a 50 percent rise from the previous year.

Norway is the world’s second-largest exporter of seafood. Its sales in 2022 topped $14.1 billion, with Poland, France and the US among the biggest buyers.

In November, representatives from the NSC will take part in the Saudi Food Expo in Riyadh in a bid to promote greater cooperation in the fields of aquaculture and aquaculture technology, according to Jacobsen.

“At the moment, we are managing the Middle East from Norway, but in the future we will appoint a representative to be on the ground in the region,” she told journalists at a media event in Alesund, a port town on the west coast of Norway.

The Middle East is a growing market, with exports of Norwegian seafood to the region hitting SR1.4 billion ($373.3 million) in 2022.

“The Saudi food and health authorities are doing great work with increasing the consumption of seafood to improve the health of the people, reduce obesity and cardiac diseases. For the NSC it would be great to assist in this work,” she said.

“Many Norwegian aquaculture technology companies are now cooperating with the industry in the Kingdom, and there have been several visits both from Norway to the Kingdom and from the Kingdom to Norway.”

She added: “Seafood production (in Norway) is strongly regulated by licenses, biology, animal welfare and sustainability, and we don’t want demand to be a factor that in any way undermines any of these concerns.

“Norway was the first country to successfully farm and then commercialize Atlantic salmon back in the seventies, so we have 50 years of experience in this field.”

After oil and gas, the seafood industry is the second-largest contributor to Norway’s economy.

As well as salmon harvesting, cod farming has been gaining momentum in the country.

During a visit to a cod farm owned by Ode, founder and CEO Ola Kvalheim told reporters about the challenges and opportunities faced by the aquaculture industry.

“As the world needs more healthy and sustainable protein, farming cod is an excellent opportunity to solve both the need for more protein and the need for more sustainable food production,” he said.

“I grew up in a small rural community along the Norwegian coastline, with a long heritage of exporting cod. Before the tremendous success of the salmon, cod was the most important seafood option from Norway. Now we are finally able to successfully farm the iconic Atlantic cod.”

Kvalheim’s farm is located close to Alesund, where the sea conditions are ideal for nurturing the fish.

“These conditions and the cold and nutritious waters are perfect for Atlantic cod,” he said.

“We produce the cod here in a natural habitat with the right temperature and in the right environment. We are focusing on zero emissions using solar panels that produce green energy for use on our farms.

“Boats and equipment run on that green energy, making it eco-friendly production. We are currently producing about 20 million meals of cod per year, next year we will be at 70 million meals,” he said.

Kvalheim said his company’s long-term plan was to become a leading seafood company.

“Initially we had a clear focus on building our organization, our value chain, establishing best in class operations and positioning our product in the market. Based on very strong operations and biology coupled with solid demand for our products, we are now scaling significantly up.”

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