Regal Springs team up to sell tilapia to UK

Regal Springs team up to sell tilapia to UK
Regal Springs skin-on fillets. Photo by Bonjwing Lee for Regal Springs.

January 16, 2013, 6:58 am

Regal Springs, the world’s largest tilapia producer, has teamed up with Continental Seafoods to sell its Indonesia Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)-certified tilapia into the UK.

If it takes off, the project could easily be the largest of its kind yet in the UK – a country which eats only a few hundred tons of tilapia a year, and where cod and haddock hold strong positions.

Regal’s tilapia ticks all the boxes for a great sustainability story, Continental director Kit Smith told Undercurrent News.

“It’s a value end of the market, that should be really attractive to all the contractors. The price is there, the quality is there, the provenance is there, what more do you want?”

The idea is to sell it as ASC-labelled frozen fillets and loins, from Regal’s ASC farms in Indonesia, with stock held in the Netherlands.

“It’s an affordable, quality fish with a good provenance, and if we are to satisfy the growing demand for healthy eating at the value end of the market; allow more people access, I can’t believe that tilapia should not be on the agenda.”

The idea for the project was borne out of an encounter with Regal Springs in early 2012, following which the companies decided to set up a joint venture to that effect.

Under the agreement, Continental — a British company founded only last year to sell and market seafood into the UK — will market and sell Regal tilapia to UK foodservice buyers and retailers.

Regal CEO and founder Rudy Lamprecht had pointed out that the UK may be a tough nut to crack, Smith said. “Regal’s view of the market is that consumers are very habitual and not very experimental when it comes to fish – they like their cod and haddock, and won’t easily adopt new species.”

But according to Smith, “you’ve got to start somewhere. The market will turn at some stage, it’s just a question of whether you want to be there, and do the turning, or wait for it to turn”.

Smith was in part inspired by exchanges he’d had with Mike Pichetti, the former Regal sales executive who was instrumental in opening up the US market to Regal’s tilapia.

“[UK] consumers are very habitual and not very experimental when it comes to fish – they like their cod and haddock, and won’t easily adopt new species”

The advice was that “you’ve got to engage the households”, mainly through retailers, who themselves employ chefs and inspire menu ideas, said Smith. “It won’t be easy, it wasn’t easy in America, you’ve just got to grind it out.”

This is not Regal’s first foray in the UK market. It sells to two UK retailers already and last summer it supplied some 250,000 loins to the Olympics, via Direct Seafoods. The fish was reportedly specifically asked for by athletes for its lean meat and high protein content, while organizers were on the lookout for sustainable sources.

“What we thought is, why can’t we do this on a daily basis?” Smith said.

The project’s first step will be next Monday, when Regal Springs and Continental will be sponsoring the Sustainable Fish Forum in London.

The event is organized by Sustainable Fish City, which has gotten a number of big brands and public departments signed up to the proposition to make London the most sustainable fish city in the world. This very proposition “makes it the best place to start”, Smith said.

The message Continental wants to get through is that Regal’s tilapia is a pristine, quality fish, “with a fantastic story behind it, and a cut above much of the tilapia that the UK has seen in the past”.

While it may not match current frozen tilapia products in price, “you can’t compare the two,” Smith said. The aim is not to target current tilapia consumers, but to convince those more traditional fish consumers, and those looking for a less fishy fish option, that Regal is a good alternative.

The Regal brand will be also key. “I truly believe that we should be trying to pin the quality on the brand.”