New Zealand King Salmon says the Ora King brand it launched on to the Kiwi fine dining market last night is "the pinnacle of our company's achievement", the fish equivalent of high-priced wagyu beef.
Chief executive Grant Rosewarne said the brand was a premium product line resulting from more than two decades of "classical breeding" - salmon developed especially for fine dining.
Selective breeding for qualities such as flesh and skin colour or oil content over seven generations of fish from 90 salmon "families" had created a new breed.
"It's got to a point where our salmon is different to anything that anybody else has got and just like a poodle is different to a labrador, we want to represent that new breed with a brand," he said.
Only "best of breed" would carry the Ora King branding after selection by grading staff, with the Regal and Southern Ocean retail brands continuing to be used for most of the company's fish. About 10 per cent of production would be Ora King at first, ultimately growing to about 50 per cent, Mr Rosewarne said.
King or chinook salmon was only 1 per cent of world production and already commanded a "massive premium" against atlantic salmon - 92 per cent more in the United States market, for example - so the price would not be increased as a result of the launch.
The company was targeting fine dining restaurants around the world. It had already been tested in overseas markets and was served at the governor-general's dinner in honour of New Zealand's Olympians in London in July.
"The word coming back from Europe, Asia, Australia and North America suggests professional chefs are delighted with the product quality."
The launch comes in the final days of a long and costly Environmental Protection Authority board of inquiry hearing in Marlborough, due to wind up on Friday. The company's plan for nine new Marlborough Sounds salmon farms to add to its existing five has met dogged opposition from environmental groups and many Sounds residents.
Mr Rosewarne said the Ora King launch was independent of that, presenting "a superior strategy under all scenarios".
But if the company was not able to grow more fish, at some point it would have to decide whether to supply either the export or the domestic market, because it would not be able to do both.
Last night's launch, attended by food writers and chefs from Australia and New Zealand, was held at Auckland's harbourside Queen St function centre, The Wharf.
Ora King was already available in Europe, Australia and China and would soon be launched in the US and Japan, Mr Rosewarne said. It would not be available to Kiwi retail customers. The whole fish, fillets and smoked fillets, would only be sold for use in restaurants, he said.
New Zealand King Salmon is the world's biggest farmer and supplier of the king salmon variety with 55 per cent of the global market, and earns around NZ$60 million a year in foreign exchange. Fairfax NZ
- The Marlborough Express