New Zealand King Salmon is doing the right thing by establishing its premium Ora King brand targeting the top end of the international market, Australian seafood authority John Susman said in Nelson yesterday.
Mr Susman and other Australian seafood business representatives visited a salmon farm in Queen Charlotte Sound on Thursday and toured the King Salmon Tahunanui processing plant yesterday.
A partner in specialist Sydney seafood consultancy and marketing business Fishtales, Mr Susman is head aquaculture judge at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. He has worked as a chef, was a founding partner in the pioneering Australian restaurant fishermongering business The Flying Squid Brothers, and been involved in production, processing and marketing of various types of seafood in Australia, Japan, and Europe.
Ora King, which NZKS markets as "the best of the best" was launched in October last year as the company's premium brand and sales are targeted at high-end restaurants in New Zealand, Australia and around the world.
This was the right strategy, Mr Susman said, and echoed the New Zealand wine industry's efforts to make its global mark by being the best, not the biggest.
"As a first-world country, New Zealand is producing to best in class, not just in culinary quality or farming practices but also environmental practices.
"There is very rigorous legislation in this country to protect the environment - that's something that in the future will become a really strong selling point, not just for King Salmon but for brand New Zealand. It's an inevitability for first-world aquaculture."
The company has come under sustained attack from environmental groups and Sounds residents for its salmon farm expansion plans but Mr Susman said its farm at Te Pangu had struck him as "a fantastic operation".
"One of the things that impressed the most was the general level of professionalism."
He said king salmon was different from its main competitor, atlantic salmon, with different eating characteristics and "a much more luxurious mouth feel".
"I think they've done an extremely good job in communicating that to the marketplace."
An advocate of sustainability, he said wild seafood was increasingly recognised as "very special". Seafood produced by aquaculture had other strong points such as security of supply and consistent quality, and would "sit alongside as an alternative".
"What New Zealand King Salmon is doing with Ora King is outstanding - it's world class. It shows a lot of maturity in the business and confidence in what they're doing."
Another member of the visiting party, leading Sydney fishmonger Jules Crocker, said New Zealand seafood companies showed a high level of care and passion for their products.
"We can see it and we're happy to work with those products, even if there are close products produced in Australia."
Mr Crocker has 250 regular clients including the lion's share of top-end Sydney restaurants. He said chefs valued the differences king salmon offered, and he could "rattle off 25" who preferred it for particular recipes.
"It is a different product and that was the important thing that King Salmon needed to do - explain that point of difference - and they've achieved that."
The Australian party's visit, partly sponsored by King Salmon, also included trips to Cloudy Bay Clams in Blenheim, another of Mr Susman's clients, and the Marlborough Food and Wine Festival today.
Meanwhile, King Salmon faces another hurdle before it can build more farms in the Sounds. The Environmental Defence Society says it is planning to appeal against the Environmental Protection Authority's decision to allow four new farms.
Appeals are only allowed on points of law, and the society's chairman, Gary Taylor, said yesterday the draft decision contained potential errors of law.
Comments on the draft decision closed yesterday, with the final decision due on February 22. Appeals from other opponents are also possible, while the company says it too might appeal, depending on what comes out of the comments and what the final decision says.
The company had sought approval for nine new farms. Four new farms will eventually allow it to double production from the current 7500 tonnes, it says.
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