Soft sales of festive favourite in a country gripped by the coronavirus and quarantine.
France is currently in a severe lockdown. Attestations are required when leaving the home, and restaurants and cafés are closed until – at least – the end of January.
Demand for smoked salmon, eaten on blinis as a staple dish across Gallic tables at Christmas, is normally popular with as much as half the population during the last few weeks of December.
But the coronavirus has put a clear spanner in the works for traditional gatherings this year. A fish buyer told SalmonBusiness that the situation is complicated in stores across France. Seafood is down considerably, a casualty caused in part from a reluctance for people to venture into larger stores.
While fish demand has dropped 15-20 per-cent in some larger stores hypermarchés (2,500 m2), boxes of fresh salmon fillets have gone up around 10 per-cent in smaller locally placed supermarchés stores. It’s worth noting that French residents can only travel up to a radius of 20 kilometres away from home.
Boulogne Sur Mer
For fourth-generation salmon smoker Pierre Corrue, who runs Corrue-Deseille in France’s fish epicentre in Boulogne Sur Mer, historically low prices of raw material have brought some slight solace ahead of the festive season.
“The price hasn’t been as low for ten years, it normally it goes up,” he said. “We’ve recuperated all what we lost (this year). But with the Christmas period, no one quite knows,” said Corrue.
Working with uncertainty day to day, he noted that people aren’t going out and that families are limited to ten people only, all likely to have an impact on consumption. But he said that the fact that Christmas is on a Friday this year, and therefore on a long weekend, could bring some relief.
Corrue buys whole Scottish and Norwegian fish for EUR 5 per kilo and sells 25g – 50g packs of smoked. In normal December times, about forty-five tonnes of fish are smoked alone, compared to one and a half tonnes per week for the rest of the year.
Corrue said that other companies in Boulogne Sur Mer, are well placed as they have been able to keep smoked salmon in storage. But he has always sold everything fresh.
40 years in the game, the smoker admitted that these were strange times, but they are not the toughest.
“Four to five years ago the price went to EUR 10 per-kilo. Our customers said the quality was great but we just worked without making any money for a year,” he said.
For larger salmon companies such as giant Mowi and its French operations, festive sales have seen a pick-up.
“In view of the closure of HoReCa because of the lockdown, sales to this segment are lower than usual although the dip is less strong than in the first lockdown period: many operators have found ways to service the consumers with take-away and/or home delivery solutions,” said a Mowi spokesperson.
“This is positive for salmon especially with regard to Asian cuisine (sushi/sashimi). In-home consumption, i.e. retail sales of salmon, both fresh and smoked, is higher than usual and has seen considerable growth year-to-date. In view of the closure of the out-of-home channel, this is expected to continue also in the period leading up to Christmas,” they added.
France’s lockdown will be lifted on December the 15th, but only if infections are below per day to 5,000 per day. Then, the country will revert to a night-time curfew (9pm to 7am) but restaurants will remain closed.
Reuters reported on Monday that France’s health ministry’s top official said that the country is still far from reducing its number of new COVID-19 cases.