Christmas Bacalhau is Ready
By Birgitte Tiller
Who has seen the head of the bacalhau? No one, the saying goes. Most Brazilians know that the best bacalhau comes from Norway. However, Norwegian fish suppliers have seen a slump in sales in Brazil in recent years. To offset this, Norwegian bacalhau are re-entering the Brazilian market in a modern design that will better fit the Brazilian consumer’s needs.
Today bacalhau must be compatible with the busy lifestyle of 21st century Brazilians. The days are over when maids and housewives had time to spend several days for preparation. People find dilution a demanding or difficult process. A pre-processed product better suits the needs of the Brazilian consumer.
In the US, bacalhau is known as codfish or simply cod. Codfish can be prepared as a fresh fish, like salmon, but bacalhau is codfish that has been preserved by drying after salting. Salt cod has long been a major export of the North Atlantic region, and it has become an ingredient of many cuisines around the Atlantic coast and in the Mediterranean.
In November, Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon Magnus visited Rio De Janeiro to launch a new Norwegian bacalhau product. Also present were the Norwegian industry minister, Monica Mæland, and a delegation consisting of researchers and members of the Norwegian business sector. The new bacalhau is processed, pre-cut, and packed in Norway, marked with its country of origin.
“This is a good time to show our long-term perspective for Brazil,” said Helle Moen, Director at Innovation Norway Brazil. “The Crown Prince’s visit was a big happening and signals the importance of the Brazilian market.”
“We want to show a presence in this highly populated country where 54 percent of the population prefers bacalhau of Noruega,” says Vasco Tørrisen Duration from the Norwegian Seafood Council.
According to the Norwegian Seafood Council, 60 to 70 percent of the bacalhau in Brazil is consumed during Easter and Christmas. The classic bacalhau still maintains a leading market share, representing approximately 60 percent of the total market. The new, more consumer-friendly versions account for the other 40 percent of the market.
Kievlim owns the fish shop Peixaria São José at Mercado Municipal de Curitiba. He says that Brazilians are eating more fish now than before. “Before people ate fish because it was a cheaper option than meat. Now you eat fish because it’s better for your health.”
Kievlim sells both fresh and dried/salted bacalhau in his shop. “Brazilians eat more of the salted bacalhau.” But his customers are requesting more salmon and bass (robalo) these days. When asked what he thinks is needed for people to eat more bacalhau, he says that suppliers can get better at communicating with their customers what the fish can be used for and suggest different recipes.
Most seafood exports from Norway to Brazil are exclusively bacalhau. In 2014, Brazil was Norway’s 17th most important seafood market with an export value of 1.06 billion Norwegian kroners (approximately 500 million reais). In spite of difficult economic times in Brazil, Norwegian fish exporters are eager to maintain their strong market share.
“Norway has had trade relations with Brazil for over 170 years, ever since the ship North Star departed from Trondheim to Rio with bacalhau and returned with coffee and sugar,” Moen says. Brazil is Norway’s most important trading partner in Latin America, and it is an increasingly important country for Norwegian industry. Oil and gas, offshore and maritime companies still dominate Norwegian investments in Brazil. Additionally, Norwegian companies have established themselves in new areas, such as agriculture, renewable energy, and marketing. According to the Norwegian government’s website, bilateral cooperation between Norway and Brazil is extensive and constantly evolving, with the main areas being business, the environment/climate change and other global issues, and the sharing of research.
Figures from 2014 indicate that over 22,000 people in Brazil are employed with Norwegian companies. The employment figures for 2015 are not yet available and may have dropped due to falling oil prices. “The Brazilian market is complex, but has many possibilities. Within oil, gas, and marine, which represent the major part of Norwegian industry in Brazil today, these are challenging times. However, this is not only true for Brazil,” Moen says.
Luckily for Norway, the Brazilian seafood market has been growing. Increased awareness about health has probably contributed to this. However, Brazilians still eat less fish per capita than the global average, as reported by the World Health Organization. The current weak economic situation may counteract this positive trend, as fish is expensive, especially imported fish.
Another factor affecting Norwegian bacalhau exports to Brazil is the competition from Portuguese and Chinese suppliers. To combat this competition, Moen believes that Norwegian suppliers should focus on innovation, product development, and branding.
Moen suggests: “Norwegian suppliers must offer the market what it wants in addition to the traditional products. A focus on brand and origin labeling is becoming increasingly important. In Norway we have a seafood sector that is concerned with the environment and security, and Norwegian seafood is top quality. Bacalhau is a Norwegian product! In Brazil, we know we must think in long terms and have good relations with our distributors, not to mention respect for the country’s expertise and knowledge. Therefore, we have also invested heavily in Norwegian/Brazilian cooperation in research, development, and innovation.”
Dried and salted cod has been produced for over 500 years in Newfoundland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands, and most particularly in Norway, where it is called klippfisk, literally “cliff-fish”. Traditionally it was dried outdoors by the wind and sun, often on cliffs and other bare rock-faces.