Seoul: Where Asia’s seafood meets

Seoul: Where Asia’s seafood meets

Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market

Key takeaways

Consumption of luxury seafood in Asia is increasing every year, and Seoul is at the heart of this supply chain.

Fresh seafood is transported from Lakselv airport in Banak, Norway, to Seoul in just under 20 hours.

Seafood export companies such as Cape Fish Group and SalMar ensure that there is a ready supply of quality seafood all year round.

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Consumer demand for seafood in Asia is stronger than ever, and Seoul is at the heart of this supply chain. Read more.

IT’S the wee hours of the morning. Elsewhere night owls might be crawling into bed but local wet markets in Asia like Seoul’s Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market is already bustling with activity.

Live and frozen seafood in ever larger volumes - to feed Asia’s insatiable demand - make their way from refrigerated trucks to stalls on trolleys pulled by rubber-booted workers under a sea of fluorescent bulbs.

Stall owners inspect their day’s orders for quality, and begin the daily bargaining with restaurateurs, retailers and the odd consumer hungry for the best seafood from around the world.

Fresh Norwegian king crabs and salmon can be easily spotted in these teeming temples of oceanic delights, thanks to the consumer demand for Norwegian seafood products, for which Asians and particularly Koreans have a good impression of because they perceive them to be of high quality, according to Gabriel Kim, Senior Sales Manager from SalMar ASA, Norway’s third largest producer of Atlantic salmon.

To ensure consumers have a ready supply, twice-weekly service flights — operated by DHL Global Forwarding — transport fresh seafood from Lakselv airport in Banak, Norway, to Seoul in just under 20 hours.

Luxury seafood consumption in Asia on the rise

“Consumption of luxury seafood in the region is increasing every year, and Seoul is the gateway to the rest of Asia. Of the 400 tons that we export to South Korea annually, about half are resold to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macau,” says Bjørn Ronald Olsen, CEO of Cape Fish Group AS, a Norwegian company that exports produced and live red king crab to Asia.

Seafood export companies such as Cape Fish Group and SalMar have established subsidiaries based in Seoul to capitalize on the opportunities in the rest of Asia where consumer demand for seafood is growing stronger than ever.

The proximity of the city to other Asian countries is a major advantage, especially for the transport of fresh salmon and live red king crabs that consumers desire.

“The markets in Asia and South Korea predominantly want live and whole seafood, which is a contrast to the markets we have in the West.

“In Europe, consumers prefer frozen seafood like fish fillets because it makes meal preparation so much easier.

“But in Asia, consumers look more for live or whole seafood because it portrays the seafood as ‘natural’, with no added chemicals, and that they are of ‘good quality’,” says Olsen.

The time of the year also causes seafood demand to fluctuate. Raw salmon, largely consumed as sushi and sashimi, is gaining popularity in South Korea as consumers increasingly associate it with festive events. Demand soars especially during the family month in May, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, says Kim.

And in the spring from January to March, Olsen sees a peak in demand for king crabs from customers. “Spring is when the crabs migrate from deep to shallow areas for the mating season. Consumers know that, which is why demand for the seafood goes up, and we take more care to ensure orders are well-placed and delivered,” he says.

Seafood: All year, every day

With more Asian consumers looking for seafood, seafood export companies are doing their best to ensure that consumers get the seafood they want all year round, not just when supply is high.

Salmon supply rises in September because the fish grow quickly in the summer with warmer waters, so one would think that it might be difficult to guarantee sufficient supply in the colder months, especially in winter when demands are higher due to the festive season.

SalMar however, undertakes measures to prevent this from happening. “In winter the fish might be smaller in size, but we make arrangements to farm more salmon in these months and inform our airline early of the expected volume and capacity of produce that will be transported, so we don’t disappoint our customers,” says Kim.

Even for Cape Fish that depends on the supply of wild king crabs along the Norwegian coast, there are plans in place to maintain a steady, undisrupted supply for customers. The company’s Honningsvaag plant has a capacity to hold 60 tons of king crab which they use to keep their surplus supply. They tap on this when their vessels bring in fewer crabs.

“It’s not like a farm where you can just go and pick up a sufficient supply of crabs. That’s the exciting thing about natural seafood. You never know how many you will catch. There’s always a big variation, but we’re always prepared to meet consumer demands,” says Olsen.

Quality of seafood a priority for customers

But just because there is supply, that does not mean that consumers will buy. Quality of the seafood is an important consideration to them, says Kim. Cape Fish therefore puts utmost priority on getting as high a percentage of live and quality king crabs as they can from Norway to their customers in Asia and across the world.

The king crabs are handled with plenty of care, whether they are in the tanks in Norway or are en route to Seoul. “We know that if they get hurt, this will affect their quality, and perhaps they might even perish soon after,” says Olsen.

“This is how we deliver high quality king crab to South Korea and to other countries, and at any time of the year. Customers in different regions aren’t so different. They’re all looking for quality, reliable suppliers, and affordable costs.”

Cape Fish also prioritizes getting the crabs to their customers in the shortest time possible. Working with DHL and cutting lead-times by more than 50 percent from 48 hours, it now only takes an estimated 18 or 19 hours to transport the crabs from Lakselv airport in Banak, Norway, to Seoul.

Keeping transport time to a minimum also preserves a low mortality rate of the crabs (under five percent) as they spend less time on the road and are exposed to stress for a shorter period.

“From our research, we know that if transport of the crabs takes more than 35 hours, the mortality rate rapidly increases to some 20 to 25 percent and quality is also affected,” Olsen says. “For us, a quick delivery is very important, which is why we deeply appreciate the new service flights.”

Likewise, the delivery time is also a key factor for SalMar. The company transports an average of 25 metric tons of fresh salmon to the Korean market, of which 60 percent are whole fish (the remainder are fillet). Getting the fish to their customers (wholesalers and supermarket chains) on time is their priority, and the expectation of their customers too.

“There is a misconception among our customers, especially those in Korea, that any delays in transport would surely affect the quality of the products. But delays can emerge from various factors such as bad weather, driving conditions or other unforeseen circumstances,” says Kim.

What can export companies do when there’s a delay? A good rapport with customers and a trustworthy logistics partner that understands the business’ problems and needs are two things that Kim lists to keep business losses at a minimal.

With seafood export companies like Cape Fish and SalMar striving to meet the region’s increasing demands, consumers can always count on feasting on fresh Norwegian seafood straight from the waters of Norway to here in Seoul, where Asia’s seafood meets.

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