News, Seafood

Sushi – the new culinary favourite in Europe

Healthy, social, quick and convenient – Sushi is sailing up as a new culinary favourite in Europe.

More and more Europeans are eating sushi.
© Jim Hensleyt

Sushi has traditionally had a strong position in Asia, and now the Europeans are being won over. If we look at France as a culinary trendsetter, the numbers speak volumes. “We are experiencing an expansive rise of sushi in Europe. We have information showing that sushi consumption in France has risen approximately 30% every year the last few years,” says Marketing Manager Bjørn Erik Stabell at the Norwegian Seafood Export Council.

And the French are not the only Europeans opting for this Japanese delicacy. In Russian 60 to 80% of Norwegian salmon sold to the hotel, restaurant and catering industry goes directly to sushi restaurants. Sales venues for sushi have risen markedly in Germany, showing that the Germans also enjoy their fish raw.

In Norway, sushi has mostly been eaten in up-scale restaurants in the capital city. The average Norwegians’ willingness to try new types of food has increased greatly in the recent years, and sushi is making the shift from an urban phenomenon to a national affair. There has been extensive media coverage on food and nutrition in general, and sushi is perceived to be healthy and slimming.

The food industry is subject to strict government regulations, and some of the sushi restaurants haven’t been able to live up to the code and have closed their doors for good. Still, the number of Norwegian sushi restaurants, bars and catering firms has doubled in the past five years, and their total sales in 2008 tallied up to NOK 520 million, sushi making up NOK 200 million of that figure.

Eating sushi can be very sociable.
© Bent Raanes & Sarah Cameron Sørensen

Fuelled by Global Trends
Sushi’s sudden rise in popularity is fuelled by global trends. The public’s focus on health is of major importance for the rise in sushi consumption. The mantra “you are what you eat” has made people more health conscious and aware of their eating habits. Sushi is lean and healthy food that makes you feel light and energized. “And, as usual, it is the young people who lead the way. The main sushi eaters are in their early thirties, but if you go to a sushi bar, you will see that also older age groups are well-represented. People see a clear connection between what they eat and how healthy they feel, making it a popular choice also amongst mature consumers,” Stabell explains.

With its rising popularity, sushi is increasingly easy to find. Not only is the number of sushi venues growing quickly, sushi is also starting to pop up on menus in established restaurants. Eating sushi is most often a social affair; one might say it’s becoming the new tapas. Enjoying wholesome food, socializing with friends or family and having a great time is one of the trendiest things you can do – and you can do all that eating sushi.

But sushi is also the ideal healthy fast food. It’s perfect to eat on the go, you just need a plastic box and your dinner’s ready. This has opened up the market for ready-made sushi sold in convenience chains, and you might even find some frozen packages in the freezer department at your local supermarket.

Coming Soon to a Kitchen near You
Sushi is over the introductory stage in the market, which means that the public has eaten sushi and knows what it is. Sushi has now graduated into a growth phase, and the real potential for growth lies in home consumption.

But consumers have a mental block when it comes to making sushi themselves, so it has yet to take the leap into domestic households. The perception is that sushi is too difficult to make at home, one of the factors being the difficulties in shopping for the right ingredients. You might have to go to several different stores to get what you need – if you can find it were you live. “The point is that sushi ingredients have to be easily accessible. If you look at how many tacos are eaten, you see that one of the main success criteria is that you can buy taco kits almost everywhere. The goal for sushi products is that they become just as accessible,” says Stabell.

Sushi fits perfectly into the trends of health, wellness and convenience. “We think that the growth will continue for a long time. There is a great potential in home-made sushi, which will pick up when the products are easier to buy. And when it does, more people will be eating Norwegian seafood,” Bjørn Erik Stabell says.

Demand for Norwegian Seafood
Norwegian salmon is already a favourite amongst discerning youth in Japan. The salmon has a great advantage: The feeding is controlled, so the fish has no parasites. This means that it doesn’t have to be frozen before being eaten raw. This gives Norwegian farmed salmon an excellent position in the sushi market, and it is the first choice for many chefs.

Norway is renowned for its cold and clear waters, and is a big exporter of high-quality seafood. The new sushi trend is good news for the Norwegian Seafood Export Council, and the future of the industry looks bright. “There is no doubt that the demand for Norwegian salmon and other types of seafood such as raw shrimp, sea urchins, cod and halibut will increase as the sushi trend becomes larger,” Stabell confirms.