North Sea cod

Priyanka Jethwa looks at how you can fill your nets as North Sea cod comes back on the menu.

Ten years after North Sea cod was deemed to be at risk of disappearing if measures weren’t taken, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) announced last month that the fish is now officially sustainable again.

Cod remains one of the most popular fish in the UK, with Brits consuming nearly 70,000 tonnes per year. But last year, MSC research found that a third of adults in the UK thought cod wasn’t sustainable and therefore avoided eating it altogether.

Packs of North Sea cod will now carry the MSC ‘blue tick’ – a certificate that is hard to obtain, as the evidence has to be peer-reviewed. Consumers will therefore be assured that the fish is sustainable, and be more inclined to buy it.

Laura Buthlay, procurement supply manager at wholesaler Thomas Ridley Foodservice, says: “This is a fantastic achievement for the industry, and good news for our customers, giving them wider choice.”

Jay Gore, fish department manager at wholesaler Robinson’s Fresh Foods, notes: “Once the message gets out to customers that we sell sustainable North Sea cod, it will certainly have a positive effect on sales.”

Meanwhile, James Simpson, MSC’s senior communications and marketing manager – North East Atlantic, says: “When the news went live on 19 July, there was greater demand for cod at Peterhead Fish Market.”

As for the price of the cod, Simpson says it’s too early to predict what will happen, but it most likely won’t decrease, as North Sea cod has always been a premium product.
Buthlay adds: “Generally, the price of fish has risen over the past six months. It is early days and we will have to monitor the market to see what will happen from here.”

Wholesaler Star Feast Foods recently expanded into London, following a growing appetite across the UK for sustainable shrimp. The company’s business development manager, Mohammed Khan, says: “If prices do go up, our customers would be happy to pay the difference as we’d explain the situation to them.”

Sales in certain areas of the market are tipped to rise on the back of the ‘blue tick’ news. Gary Hannah, managing director at Hannah Food Service, says: “We are part of ‘Food for Life’, which is passionate about supplying MSC-approved seafood. The programme has an awards scheme based on the sustainability of the food you provide to schools. A lot of the local councils jumped on the back of this, as they saw it as an achievement, so North Sea cod could now enjoy the effects of this.”

How else can wholesalers increase cod sales on the back of this development? The answer lies in justification and creativity. MSC research shows that consumers can gloss over sustainability claims unless a reputable body is making them. Thus, wholesalers need to encourage their customers to talk up the MSC stamp of approval.

Furthermore, creating recipes that identify cod as a premium product that can be used in unique ways is a useful tool. Hannah says: “One supplier we were talking to had a ginger-battered fish designed for schools. You can buy the same battered fish from 100 others – so it’s all about standing out from the crowd.”


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