Even though Germans are considered to be meat lovers, Germany is still a huge market for the seafood industry. The country has Europe’s largest population (82 million) and also its largest economy. Germans often eat seafood for breakfast, lunch and in the evenings.
They eat less seafood than the recommended intake
Looking at German food habits, they usually eat seafood at home, and preferably as a topping or snack for breakfast or lunch. Seafood for dinner is less common than in for example France and Great Britain, and this is where the biggest opportunity lies for increased seafood consumption.
In Germany, about 13kg of seafood is eaten anually per person. Annual seafood consumption in Germany is about 10 kg below the average European consumption, and 6 kg below what the average world citizen consumes.
On average, Germans eat 70 seafood meals a year, which is equivalent to 1.3 meals a week. This is clearly below the WHO’s recommendation of two to three seafood meals per week. Only one in three Germans meet the WHO’s recommendation, putting them behind most countries in Europe.
Thus, there is a good opportunity for Norwegian seafood in Germany, especially since Norway is among the largest suppliers of fish such as salmon and herring. Together with pollock/coalfish, these are the most popular fish in Germany. While the proportion of Germans stating that they like pollock/coalfish for weekday dinner has decreased, the preference for salmon and herring has gone up. Germans eat as many salmon dinners as the average European, but they eat more herring.
Seafood for breakfast and lunch
The Germans have a long tradition of eating herring. On both weekdays and at weekends, herring has been an important component of breakfast, lunch and supper.
Bread is very important in the German diet, and herring salads and various herring marinades are part of traditional German cuisine. A seafood study conducted in Germany in 2014 found that almost 10 million Germans (equivalent to more than half the population of Sweden) preferred herring salad as an alternative lunch dish. One in four said that they ate seafood for breakfast at weekends.
Herring consumption has decreased somewhat over time. Herring’s decline in recent years can be explained by the fact that younger consumers’ eating habits have diversified from those of the older generations, and producers have not been able to adapt effectively to the new eating habits. Exporters and producers are now addressing this, with increased attention in the media and product development reinforcing herring’s future among younger consumers.
Smoked salmon is also popular in Germany. Germany tops the Charts over most smoked salmon sold for home consumption, and smoked salmon is the most popular seafood option for breakfast. Around 68% of people say that smoked salmon is their favourite seafood for breakfast at weekends.
Germans like salmon at dinner
German food tradition is quite similar to Norway. Bread is the most popular choice for breakfast and lunch, and dinner is the most important hot meal of the day.
Germans prefer to eat seafood at home. Their seafood consumption in restaurants is modest, but when they do, they choose salmon and shrimp.
Although they consume a low amount of seafood in general, about 50% of Germans eat one seafood dinner during the week. Every third German says that salmon is their favourite type of fish for dinner. This number is increasing and what bodes very well for salmon in the future is that it is particularly popular as a seafood alternative for younger consumers.
Germans love breaded products
Pollock has the highest sales in German grocery stores, measured by volume. Together with coalfish, it is frequently used in backfisch, a popular breaded fish dish with a long tradition in Germany. Both of these species are relatively inexpensive for food producers, and since the fish is sold as a processed product, the German consumer can rarely taste whether the backfisch contains coalfish or pollock. Thus, companies can use both species. It is sold more in frozen form rather than fresh.
For consumers, frozen coalfish/pollock constitutes a dinner that is easy to prepare, and easy to get hold of. Despite its popularity, there has been a decline in both sales and popularity recently. This may be due to the health trend in Germany, with more and more people wanting to eat more “clean” foods, such as unprocessed raw ingredients.
It is sold more in frozen form rather than fresh. For consumers, frozen coalfish/pollock constitutes a dinner that is easy to prepare, and easy to get hold of. Despite its popularity, there has been a decline in both sales and popularity recently. This may be due to the health trend in Germany, with more and more people wanting to eat more “clean” foods, such as unprocessed raw ingredients.
Interestingly, one species that has done well in recent years is cod. Norwegian cod, in the form of Norwegian skrei, has been a great success. Much of this is due to marketing activities and the efforts of Norwegian producers and the Norwegian Seafood Council. For a long time, skrei was sold mostly to restaurants, but in recent times, more has been available for home cooking. In 2018, about 7% of people stated that they considered skrei as both a weekday, weekend and restaurant option.This corresponds to about 5 million people.
Modest range of seafood in German stores
Germany is known for being a price-conscious market where discount chains dominate. One expects German consumers to be motivated by low prices, but there are a large number of wealthy Germans who are looking for premium quality. These customers are willing to pay a higher price, and thus we might say that seafood sales in Germany are binary – as figures from the Norwegian Seafood Council, Europanel and FIZ show.
On the one hand, discount chains such as Lidl, Aldi and Netto MD attract cost-conscious consumers with an average to low income. On the other hand, big supermarket chains – Edeka, Real and Rewe are among the largest – attract consumers with higher incomes. This distinction explains some of the dynamics in the market in recent years.
The discount chains realised a few years ago that if they are to grow their sales, they had to acquire new customers that are willing to pay more, rather than focus on loyalty among the existingcustomer base. They realised that they underperformedon fresh fish, something that quality conscious Germans demanded, and they began to sell fresh seafood alongside frozen fish. This has created an increased focus on fresh fish, but it may be a long time before we see large fresh fish counters as in similar supermarkets in France and Spain. The fish is stored mainly in freezer coolers, refrigerated coolers or with smoked salmon or herring in glass containers or boxes.
The discount chains sell the most seafood in Germany. Hypermarkets and supermarkets are responsible for the most sales of fresh fish from serviced fish counters. Unfortunately, the fish counters are modestly sized compared to the meat equivalents.
An opinion survey carried out by Kantar TNS for the Norwegian Seafood Council in 2018 found that German fish eaters want to see, inspect and smell the fish pieces before they buy them. Obviously, this is difficult in discount stores which mainly sells packaged fresh fish. One would think that this would be an advantage for fishmongers, but they have seen a decline in sales in recent years. This may be explained by better seafood selection in the modern grocery trade and a strong focus on price among Germans.
Strong focus on sustainability, environment and food safety
In Germany, there has been a growing focus on how food is produced. For many Germans, it is important to know that they are buying ethically produced food. This is one of the reasons why German producers have become very focused on labelling their products with information such as certifications. Another growing seafood trend is to choose raw ingredients that meet safety, sustainability and environmental criteria. Opinion surveys conducted in 2018 found that the focus on sustainability and environment is more prevalent in Germany than in other European markets.
For Norway as a seafood-exporting nation, it is therefore very important to communicate that Norwegian seafood is sustainably managed, as well as informing consumers about the measures being taken to ensure that all Norwegian fish and shellfish products are safe. This is important not just to boost the reputation of Norwegian seafood in general, but also to make Norwegian fish and seafood seem like a better alternative than other protein sources such as meat. This can be done through labelling as well as through awareness campaigns.
Otherwise, taste, enjoyment and health are the most important drivers for Germans when choosing seafood. The awareness that seafood contributes positively to reducing the risk of ailments such as cardiovascular disease is a driver for food choices.
Germans have relatively little knowledge about production
Opinion surveys on salmon from 2018 show that Germans are very engaged with this species, but have a lower level of knowledge than consumers in many other European countries. Particularly lacking is knowledge about how salmon is produced. Germans only have vague notions and assumptions about how salmon is cultivated and how long the production process takes. This uncertainty can create concerns and leave question marks. For example, only 6% of Germans know that most Norwegian salmon are farm raised.