Overview of buying needs of Saint Petersburg based seafood restaurants

September 21, 2006 16:44

Today fish can be found on menus of practically all the Russian restaurants. This tasty, healthy and dietetic foodstuff is regarded as one of the key components on the menus, according to Sovremennyi Biznes. Restoran.

The below review reflects the situation on the Saint Petersburg market of chilled and live fish and the possibilities to form the menus in the HoReCa sector.

Fish auctions

Russia now imports fish practically from all the countries where the fishery industry is well developed or where there are fish farms: Norway, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Indonesia, Thailand, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates and others.

The volume of farmed fish in the country’s seafood imports is very substantial. Those fish species are trout, Atlantic salmon, sea bass, sea bream and turbot. All the other fish comes from wild fisheries and then it is purchased from auctions. There the supplier should know those countries where it is profitable to purchase this or that fish. In many countries fresh fish markets are sporadic or they offer low quality produce.

The fact that the fish is purchased via auctions explains frequent fluctuations of prices, therefore companies’ price lists are updated every week. One more thing is that many fish species are noted for limited seasonality (sometimes one month or one and a half months) thus making the suppliers to change the range.

Price segments

Saint-Petersburg importers of fresh fish distinguish three price segments. In the lower segment (RUR200-500 per kilo) the suppliers offer seabass and sea bream of small sizes, some flatfish species, Atlantic salmon and trout from the northern seas, sardine and mackerel. Besides, this year the suppliers have tried to compensate the shortage caused by limited import of fresh salmon and trout from Norway by the Russian fish as well as the Finnish trout.

According to the report, an interesting offer in the lower end of the market is Arctic char, a salmon family species which can be considered an exotic fish. Arctic char has nice coloration and it has practically no scales. The meat is soft nearly without fat, therefore the fish is regarded a dietetic product. Hot smoked Arctic char has especially fine taste.

In the mid market end (RUR500-900 per kilo) the traders offer sea bass and sea bream of the average sizes, some species of sole, monkfish, skates, parrotfish, tunas, surmullet, red mullet, etc. One of the segment’s hits is Dover sole which has moved into the upper end of the market this year. Migrations of fish have made the demand in Europe exceed the supply several times thus causing a price rise to RUR2000 per kilo.

In the upper end of the market (RUR900-1300 per kilo) the Russian wholesalers offer large size fish such as sole, turbot, sea bass and rare species – dory, river eel, snapper, Chilean sea bass, blackcod, etc. The same category can also include large fish such as sharks, mahi-mahi and grouper enjoying a strong demand among catering companies purchasing the fish for banquets. The weight of such fish reaches 30-50 kilos and the length 2-3 meters. Many species of such large exotic fish are absent in the usual range of suppliers and are delivered specially to the event under an individual order.

Offers exceeding the price level of RUR1200 per kilo appear in the price lists extremely rarely which can be explained by the level of the solvent demand in Saint-Petersburg. The specialized segment of chilled fish from Japan for Russian-based restaurants with Japanese food is the only exception. Thus, the price of famous tiger puffer reaches 200 USD per 1 kilo.

Delicatessen products

Restaurant chefs working with fresh fish normally order products once or twice a week. Separate suppliers denote a minimum lot or a total sum of supply. High end restaurants are interested to work with those companies ready to deliver exotic products with the order even possible to consist of several specimens.

According to the suppliers, work with farmed products is noted for more accurate organization of packaging, storage and transportation of fish with the shelf life to be extended up to 10 days after harvesting. In case of wild fish the shelf life is shorter. Storage within the shelf life specified by the supplier is possible only subject to a proper temperature regime of minus 3 to plus 3 degrees Celsius. Wrong temperatures when storing result in a decrease of the product’s shelf life and worsening of its organoleptic qualities.

Chefs evaluate the quality of chilled fish to a whole range of criteria. Fish eyes should be bulging, shining, but not pellicular. The second index of freshness is firmness of the fish meat. More specifically, when pressed the fish meat should quickly reshape without any dimples. Scarlet gills as a quality index is a widespread mistake because some fish species primarily have dark or light gills. For instance, rainbow trout has a lightly pink colour of gills when the fish is just harvested. A lot depends on the environment of this or that fish, because gills serve as a filter as well and the water content therefore can change their natural colour. However, when gills or belly have a heavy smell, the product is not fresh then. Though chefs bear in mind that some exotic chilled fish makes a long way of thousands and even dozens of thousands kilometers to Russia and therefore it is practically impossible to get absolutely ideal organoleptic qualities.

Carp and trout – sales hits

Russian products also enjoy a brisk demand among the companies of the HoReCa sector, though consumption of fresh fish from domestic producers is not large as compared to that of imported fish. For instance, fish farms based in the Russian Northwest and Karelia grow 10,000 metric tons of trout per year, while import to Moscow and Saint Petersburg amount to 30,000-40,000 metric tons.

The range of Russian fish farms includes trout, whitefish Coregonus, sterlet, sturgeon and carp. Wild fisheries contribute amur, silver carp, large bream, pike perch and catfish. The prices for Russian products vary from RUR100 to RUR450 per kilo.

Restaurants’ preference of domestic products can be explained by the soonest possible delivery, says Vladimir Konyukhov, general director of Rybstandart fish farming company. It takes only several hours for just harvested fish to appear in a restaurant’s kitchen thus guaranteeing the highest quality of its fish dishes.

In the recent years Russian victualers demonstrate a strong demand for convenience products from chilled fish such as fillets, stakes, head-off tail-off and medallions. The products are delivered ready for cooking and packed into portions of 300-400 grams. Thus, chefs do not have to clean such fish and dress it which actually saves their time and efforts.

One of the problems for the Saint-Petersburg market is that the solvent demand is growing very slowly, complained Alina Shitikova, general director of Streamer Company. The most popular fish in the company’s range is carp which is also the most affordable category. The second place in terms of demand is taken by trout, while the third is occupied by sturgeon and sterlet. The chefs only wish that the producers expand the range as the current minimum range has already become unsatisfactory for them.

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