“We received a lot of requests from exporters who needed help in getting their products into new markets, and they were particularly interested in France,” say Marketing Manager Karin Olsen at the Norwegian Seafood Export Council.
France is a culinary force majeur, a superpower with world-renown cuisine. Delivering to up-scale French restaurants means delivering to the best in the world, but breaking into the French high-end market can seem like an insurmountable task. Exporters not only had to find the right contacts in the flora of restaurants, they also had to collaborate with a reliable distributor. It made sense to unite forces and make a combined effort, but the exporters lacked the organization needed.
A high-end restaurant campaign designed to showcase Norwegian seafood in France was initiated by the NSEC. The campaign lasted from August 2009 till February 2010, and by gathering a group of exporters it allowed the Export Council to support commercial activity in a different way than previously.
Johan Kvalheim is the Norwegian Seafood Export Council’s representative in Paris, and he explains that the French public perceives Norway as almost synonymous with gender equality. So what better way to spearhead the campaign than to choose an all-female team of ambassador chefs? “French newspapers often feature articles on how gender-neutral Norway is, an example being the Norwegian law to get 40% female representation in the board rooms. Choosing women as the ambassador chefs for Norwegian seafood seemed very fitting,” Kvalheim says.
The ambassador team is made up of top-notch chefs with impressive CVs. Olympe Versini, Flora Mikula, Anne-Sophie Pic and Andrée Rosiers all own their own gourmet restaurants, and are in a sense pioneers in a the male-dominated field. They are well-respected French celebrities, an ideal combination to capture the media’s interest.
The Featured Products
When the NSEC invited all Norwegian exporters to apply to the project, the response was great. It included exporters of scallops, prawns, king crab, edible crab, cod, salmon, Arctic char, white halibut, sea urchins and value added products.
But the selection had to be narrowed down for this particular project. With input from the distributor, chefs and gastronomy journalists the final selection was made. In the end white halibut, salmon loins, cod loins, scallops and king crab made it through the needle eye.
When exporting small volumes for the luxury segment, it is crucial that the products arrive on time and in premium condition. Finding a reliable distributor was therefore an integral part of the project. Pomona Terre Azur fit the bill to a T: They have the right values, nationwide distribution and a 60 percent turnover on restaurants.
Passionate Restaurant Chefs
The campaign was nationwide, and to qualify the restaurants had to have chefs with a genuine passion for seafood. It was also important that they wanted to feature the Norwegian seafood on their menu in the long-term perspective. The restaurant’s price level had to be high in order to continue buying the relatively pricey gourmet products. By offering the selected products as a package combined with a reliable and respected distributor it was easier for the restaurants to join the campaign. The Com & Food bureau contacted prospective restaurants in the fall, and by December 30 confirmed their participation.
The all-female team of ambassador chefs was an important part of the marketing plan, and the fact that they are celebrities in France created a lot of extra attention. Their first job was to accompany French chefs and key journalists to Norway. The group visited Gastranomisk Institutt where they had a chance to meet up with some of the leading chefs in Norway and experiment and taste the products. The media focused on the ambassador chefs, who expressed joy and enthusiasm over the high quality of Norwegian seafood. This proved to be good copy for the press, giving the project excellent marketing value. “The chefs also met the producers so that they could, in essence, see where the seafood came from and follow it all the way to their own restaurants. They really appreciated this aspect of the trip,” says Kvalheim.
There were also many activities in France. The Norwegian Ambassador’s residence was the distinguished venue for the campaign’s press launch. The daily press was invited to a Christmas lunch, and press kits were distributed to some 200 journalists.
The marketing plan had the desired effect. The female chefs gave the coverage a new and different slant, and the journalists were interested in discovering both the high quality and the unique taste of Norwegian seafood. “One of the goals was to show that Norway can deliver premium quality in many different products. Salma is a good example. It is a super-fresh niche product, and has a new name and packaging design to catch the attention of the French chefs,” says Karin Olsen.
With this campaign the Norwegian Seafood Export Council has established the necessary infrastructure with a reliable distributor and high-end restaurants serving the featured seafood. Now that the project has been completed, the exporters are all set up to continue their collaboration with the partners in one of the world’s most interesting markets. And the hope is that this campaign will have built lasting partnerships with some of the best chefs in France.
The First Step
The exporters’ overwhelming interest shows a need for exactly this type of activity. The NSEC will continue with new projects showcasing other products. Many activities are planned for 2010. This is not the end of one project, but the beginning of a new way of coordinating exports. Or, as Johan Kvalheim cheerily comments from his Paris location, “This was the first step in a long, long march.”