The United States has some of the largest and most advanced trout farms in the world. Canada produces much less but there are farms in just about every province and opportunity to expand. The Idaho producers have been thriving for many years. There has been great innovation coming from long-established players in North Carolina.
For the most part these companies have remained understated about their success and products. I hope they become more visible and vocal as they have much to be proud of and can elevate the entire industry with their stories. All producers have access to some of the most affluent and health-conscious populations in the world yet, in my opinion, North American farmed trout is an underappreciated and undervalued fish.
Qualitative market conditions
Trout is a fish familiar to most people. Unlike many other species, there is no need to explain what it is or how it tastes. North American consumers have a better perception of trout over catfish and freshwater imports.
There is no hotter food trend in the US and Canada than food sourced locally. The trend has many labels — Farm to Table, Boat to Plate, Dock to Dish and Farm to Fork — to name a few. I can see this trend only getting more popular and trout producers are in a great position to
capitalize on it.
Over the last five years European bass and bream species from Turkey, Greece and other countries have gained popularity in North America. Though ocean-farmed, they have created a price point and consumer appreciation of whole fish that could be advantageous to trout. From my experience, whole farmed trout compares favorably in taste and bone issues, while offering a fresher, locally produced alternative, which also has a more stable supply than these imports.
Trout has fewer “off-flavor” issues compared to North American farmed catfish, striped bass, redfish and barramundi. This is a major advantage that should be pointed out.
General market strategies
Educated and affluent consumers are interested in knowing the story behind their food, and there is no better story than farmed North American trout. Leaving the marketing of your production to distributors or end users is not going to help raise the image of your fish. No one can tell your story better than you can.
Price is certainly the major factor with all seafood, however, positioning fresh trout fillets as a local alternative to the European bass and bream imports may prompt restaurants to experiment. Bones are a factor with many North American consumers. Fresh boneless or 95-percent boned trout fillets with the skin on or off is a great item that should be on more menus and in higher-end seafood cases than it is now. A distributor cost in the mid-$6.00 per pound can be justified with the appropriate marketing.
In retail I see a market opportunity for fresh headless, boneless golden trout fillets in addition to the rainbow trout.
Value-added fresh trout products that offer a full-meal solution with starch and vegetables to the high-end retail market is an area worth some R&D.
At present there are innovative, coated trout items but there is more room to grow in this on-the-go full-meal category that consumers want. The same full-meal solution should be looked at for frozen items offering a complete microwave- or oven-ready healthy meal, as opposed to just the fillet.
Trout: the path of least resistance
There are a number of investors trying to alter the US aquaculture and fish market with business plans and claims that are bordering on delusional. American and Canadian trout farmers and processors are on the other side of this spectrum. A handful of companies, many with a history of success going back to the 40s, continue to innovate and impress. Based on the current US consumer trends I think there are more revenue streams for trout to swim.
Many thanks to Tom Ellis of the US Trout Farmers Association for his valuable insights.
— Joe Sabbagh