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2 Jul 2021 10:20 AM | Anonymous

Let us be honest supermarkets have generally not done much good for the seafood industry and have constantly failed the consumer. Poor displays, lack of trained staff, poor management of counters and much wasted food and, now, consequently, there is clearly a general shift from the ‘fresh fish’ counter to such things as pre-packed chilled seafood and hot food counters.

The UK Grocer magazine recently revealed that Walmart owned Asda Stores Ltd chain are to close all their meat and fish counters. This news follows on from the decision by Tesco to close some of their service counters including fish – a potential worrying sign for aquaculture production.

Supermarkets are looking at short term profits only as removing fresh counters means losing the point of differentiation between the larger retailer and the discounters as fish counters provide a greater variety for consumers.

Supermarkets have realised that fish on ice has a much shorter shelf life compared to pre-packaged fish so they will always point to the move away from fish counters is being driven by the need for operational efficiency and improved waste management. Sadly, few invest in staff training to understand the nuances in setting up counters and engaging consumers so reap what they sow in that area.

If the retailer puts on a poor seafood display, then clearly the informed consumer is either going to buy elsewhere or worse still, buy other protein! As their fish counters have fewer and fewer customers, this impacts the display offering and evidence shows that downsizing fresh fish counters has been occurring for a while and it is very difficult to reverse. Space is money to supermarkets and if the space is not providing the income then change will occur.

US and UK are experiencing declining home consumption of seafood. Whether this is due to the poor offerings and lack of excitement created at the seafood counters or just a general move to more convenience in the busy lives of consumers no one really knows. But the inevitable is that fresh fish counters will sadly be a thing of the past.

You can blame the seafood industry as it fails to invest itself or you can blame the supermarkets for their lack of seafood engagement but if you are trying to grow your aquaculture enterprise you need to find something more secure than selling to supermarkets.

When the Fishmonger stumbled and was injured and needed hospital care the Fishmonger may have accidentally fallen into what could be an aquaculture producer’s opportunity.

Institutional food covers the whole gambit from prisons to hospitals; university campuses to business canteens and spreads out wider to airlines and sporting stadiums. When researching ‘institutional food’ I came across this explanation – “characterized by the blandness, drabness, uniformity, and lack of individualized attention attributed to large institutions that serve many people: institutional food”. This says it all – you get what you are given and that’s the end of it.

When did you last hear someone say with such food – that was so great I need to go back there for another meal! Mostly it is all about price and mass production and the bottom line is more important than the nutritional content, the quality of the food and/or the dining experience.

The initial experience for the Fishmonger was in a Mexican hospital, fortunately one which had a strict ‘no chilli’ policy, possibly a rarity in a country that loves its chilli. The choices were minimal and whilst certainly edible they were pretty much as described above.

On the home journey an infection had impacted the Fishmongers injury and on arrival it was clear a trip to the emergency hospital was needed. Having ticked the three boxes that triggered the biosecurity quarantine at the hospital was worse to follow? The Fishmonger was not expecting to find any great change to the hospital culinary journey having experienced hospital stays in the past, but thankfully a new awakening was waiting.

Seafood is good for your health and well-being and hospitals, you would think, would have been the first place to set you back on the road of recovery and should be providing the best nutritional input but alas you fear ordering the fish. The experience, sadly, has been generally woeful, with overcooked and flavourless offerings.  

It generally takes a good day, sometimes longer, in hospital to get organised with food choices as it is not seen as an important issue. You are therefore at the mercy of whoever is in charge or organising the food. Being told your first meal would be ‘the fish’ there is not the excitement as might be if you were in different circumstances.

Wow…. the meal arrived and it was a Grilled Atlantic Salmon fillet and it was cooked to perfection. Something you would have been more than happy to receive in a fancy restaurant. Surely the Fishmonger was dreaming (or maybe it was the drugs…) as nothing this tasty and nutritious could be served in a hospital!

Soon the Fishmonger was given control of the very modern computerised food ordering system that is aligned to each hospital room where you can book from a large menu and allotted times. The question for the Fishmonger was does he put the initial fish meal down as a mirage and leave it in the memory bank knowing it cannot be surpassed or does he go back to the ‘fish’ and order the Steamed Barramundi to see if it is a consistent offering.

The Fishmonger loves his seafood, so he had to tempt fate and hit ‘Barramundi’ on the menu button, and he was not disappointed. In fact, he was so impressed that, over the few days he was in hospital, he constantly pushed the seafood meal button and after discharge organised to meet the people responsible for the food.

Preet Singh, Executive Chef at Epworth HealthCare, is clearly a culinary and food safety professional. He has over 15 years of experience in the health care catering and hospitality service industries and leads his team which produces 2,500 meals per day on average. Preet has come through the organisations program during which he engaged heavily in training, working hard to move up the ladder and finally overseeing the massive changes that have taken place.

Of course, hospitals, like all institutions, operate on tight budgets but clearly, as Preet has shown at Epworth it does not mean that you cannot produce fine food. Preet indicated that they have a proven track record of working within budget for food and labour costs and, importantly, exceeding expectations at an organisation level, department level and amazingly at a patient level.

Investment in new technology both with cooking equipment and menu management software (Delegate and Buckeye were mentioned) and dedicated well trained staff pays off but having the ability of getting consistent quality raw material is an essential element to the finished product. That clearly is where aquaculture producers can excel and become major direct suppliers to the institutional organisation.

As CAPT Joseph Hibbeln, M.D., USPHS a Clinical Investigator and currently Acting Chief of the LMBB/ Section on Nutritional Neurosciences at National institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (SNN at NIAAA) has told us – ‘Fish is a food with unique psychotropic properties and consumption of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, rich in seafood, reduces depression, aggression and anger while improving mental well-being. Seafood contains a host of balanced nutrients and if we have a seafood deficient diet it means the brain isn’t getting enough nutrition and data collected showed nutritional deficiencies caused by not having omega-3 in your diet results in the harm it intends to prevent.’

We mention CAPT Hibbeln as he has been involved in many studies on many people within institutions. He particularly has pointed out in a paper ‘Suicide Deaths of Active US Military and Omega-3 Fatty Acid Status: A Case Control Comparison’ that Omega-3 Fatty Acids are extremely low among US Military personnel.

If all Government controlled institutions had policies favouring farmed seafood sourced in their own countries and aligned that with forward thinking food specialists like Preet Singh, then we would create not only terrific opportunities for aquaculture producers but a far better world!

Pleased to say the Fishmonger is no longer on drugs but the dream lives on….

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