Since 2011, China has been Alaska’s number one export market and seafood accounts for 54 percent of Alaska exports.
In Chinese food culture, fish symbolizes abundance and prosperity, which plays into the growing middle class that has significant disposable income to spend on more high end foods. That, combined with a growing economy and concerns over food safety and pollution could send even more Alaska seafood to China, especially salmon.
A fascinating new Sea Grant report – called Consumer Preference and Market Potential for Alaska Salmon in China – gives a glimpse of that potential in a country with 1.4 billion people. Researchers over three months surveyed more than 1,000 supermarket shoppers in three major Chinese cities. Some results:
While nearly 40 percent of consumers eat seafood at least once a week, just over nine percent eat salmon that often, and nearly seven percent have never eaten salmon at all.
Over 66 percent considered seafood as healthier than other foods. Over 25 percent preferred wild seafood; nearly the same number did not pay attention to or understand the difference between wild and farmed.
More than 38 percent of consumers said they eat salmon in restaurants and prefer it raw, as sashimi or sushi. Nearly 18 percent eat salmon in the same way at home.
On average, consumers ranked the method of harvest as the most important salmon attribute, followed by environmentally friendly certificates, color, method of preservation, country of origin, and fat content.
Over 68 percent said they would be more likely to buy Alaska salmon after knowing it is from a clean environment and is sustainably harvested.
Nearly 59 percent said they definitely or probably would buy Alaska salmon if it was available at an acceptable price.
In the United States, most salmon consumers eat only the salmon fillet. Chinese culinary traditions include cooking fish heads, tails, and bones for various soups and stews. Supermarket prices showed salmon heads selling for $4.99 per pound, salmonskins at $2.46, and salmon bones at $5.10 per pound.
The report said those low-value parts, considered waste to most US consumers, can carry significant value as Alaska exports to China.