Portugal, with its seafood loving consumers is experiencing changes in consumption habits. As the largest market of Norwegian cod, latest trends are showing an increased interest in salmon, while the traditional bacalhau consumption is experiencing challenges among its younger population.

The consumption of bacalhau in Portugal is experiencing a form of transition, as the upcoming generations bring new preferences and habits to the table. The consumption of the famous bachalau among the younger part of the population (under 34, 35–49) is in fact decreasing, and the early signs of new demands and habits must be acknowledged in order to keep hold of the strong Bachalau traditions, also in the future.

The Portuguese market is of great importance to the Norwegian whitefish industry and represents  the largest market for Norwegian cod exports. In 2018, Norway exported almost 43,000 tons of cod to Portugal, where 24,000 of that were dried and 18,000 salted. Salmon export have been relatively stable around 11 500 tons during the last three years. Most of the cod export to Portugal are used as bacalhau, and among the consumers above 50 years of age, over 80% states that they have bought bachalau at least once in the previous year.

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Photographer: NSC

An interesting development however is the increased popularity of salmon, where more people answer that they would prefer salmon over cod for a normal weekday dinner. The increase from 2012 is solid in that regard, but bacalhau is still stated as the most preferred meal on weekends or at restaurants.

How much bacalhau do they eat?

When the consumers were asked whether they eat more, less or equal amounts of bacalhau as the previous year, 28% of the consumers in the 18-40 age category answered that they ate less than the year before, whereas only 14% indicated the opposite. The trend among the 41-65 category is equivalent, but less steep.

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Photographer: NSC

The numbers for those under 34 are more concerning. Where 64% of that generation answered that they purchased bacalhau at least once a year in 2012, the equivalent number for 2017 was below 50%. Also among the middle aged (35-49) the consumption is falling, dropping from 74% in 2012 to 66% in 2017.

The trend is consistent over the last seven years in both categories, and a study from 2018 among 1000 Portuguese consumers confirms the decrease.

The seafood eating giants!

The Portuguese have long traditions with seafood and are the largest consumers in Europe. In average, the normal consumer eats 150 meals a year, which is 50 meals above the European average, and 10 more than the Norwegian. Bacalhau, the cornerstone of Portuguese cuisine, is firmly the most eaten recipe among the population, where 30% of the Portuguese in our survey answered a monthly average of 3 bacalhau meals or more.

When asked how often they eat bacalhau, its especially among those with a high consumption the decrease is most evident. 53% of the 18-40 category states that they eat bacalhau at least once a week, while 63% of the 41-65 says the same. In other words, younger consumers are eating less bacalhau than the seniors, making the bacalhau consumption trend among the younger a highly relevant subject to discuss in the bacalhau industry.

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Photographer: NSC

What causes the consumption changes?

Given the long traditions of bacalhau consumption in Portugal, the meal is connected with history and often special occasions. Reasons behind the decreasing consumption is fluctuating, and several factors play in. Among the answers we received when asking why the respondents consumed less bacalhau, the top three answers were “less value for money, fewer suitable occasions and too time consuming” among the 18-40 years old. It’s also evident that more of the younger respondents lack the knowledge of how to prepare it, which naturally can lead to bacalhau being replaced by other food sources.

The older part of the respondents stated mainly less value for money as the top reason but are also communicating that the number of suitable occasions for eating bacalhau is decreasing.

In general, time efficiency seems to be of higher importance to the Portuguese consumers than  before. As a possible response to this, 17% of the 18-40 population states that they buy the bacalhau grated, while the equal answer from the 41-65 respondents are only 5%. Traditional dried whole cut bacalhau still remains the most chosen bacalhau form bought, but pre-soaked (fresh/frozen) bacalhau are also representing a reasonable amount of the preferred purchase condition.

What does the future bring?

The fact that the younger consumers are stating a higher preference of time convenient products, as well as a need for higher knowledge of how to prepare it is similar to what we see in other countries, and hardly a surprise. Bacalhau remains a trademark for Portugal, and the population embraces it as something they’re proud of, but the decreasing numbers in traditional dried bacalhau consumption should give directions for further grips and focus in order to keep the tradition going in future generations.

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Photographer: NSC

Retail/stores vs HoReCa

Earlier figures from the HoReCa-segment shows a rather strong increase in the amount of dried and salted cod imported. Previous reports have shown an increase in price of dried and salted bacalhau in stores, which has led to a rise in the amount of seafood eaten in restaurants. The Portuguese are together with  Spain and Italy the people which consumes the largest portion of their seafood meals outside. Informal talks with chefs in Portugal tell us that they cherish having full control of the fish before serving to guests, hence the increased popularity of traditionally dried and salted cod in the HoReCa-segment.

Norwegian seafood, a popular choice

The importance of awareness of where the seafood origins from is increasing, and Norway stands out as the most preferred choice of country.

An increased focus on labelling on dried and salted cod in retail and stores has contributed to a higher level of knowledge among consumers, and segmentation strategies has been implemented in order to differentiate the products. In this way, retailers or stores can gain added value for some products, based on for example country of origin, but also differentiate dried and salted cod after the degrees of salting. In other words, “new” products (as e.g. rehydrated frozen loins) based on the traditional product is now giving consumers more options compared to before, opening up for differentiation strategies and added value.

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Photographer: NSC