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A simple solution to pollock's name problem?

Transparency is never bad marketing.

Kudos to companies in both Europe and the United States for working hard to get consumers to recognize the name and appreciate it as a sustainable, quality ingredient in frozen food -- it's starting to pay off.

Increasingly, companies are stepping up to use Alaska pollock as part of its front-of-the-pack marketing, in large part due to the efforts of American producers, who have long worked to get the fish its due.

Of course, there's a bubbling frustration: it's not just Alaskans benefiting from the marketing of Alaska pollock.

Americans have for years been pushing the message that single-frozen pollock is superior in quality to twice-frozen pollock, for at least as far back as the 2003 formation of the Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers (GAPP), which represents US and Japanese companies harvesting and processing single-frozen pollock in Alaska.

I'm not convinced European or American consumers of frozen value-added fish care massively what fish species is in their dinner, but I do know that they increasingly care about where and how it's caught.

No, the FAO code and gear type is not the solution -- it could and should be so much easier.

We get the overwhelming majority of our pollock from suppliers in two countries: the US and Russia. Simply adding those to the pollock name would go miles in clearing up confusion about the fish, and would frankly offer both countries the ability (and right) to market their own fish using their country's unique attributes.

IntraFish Editor Elisabeth Fischer's story on German discounter Lidl's stark ad campaign comparing Iglo and its own-brand fish fingers reveals that, at least to the marketing execs at the retailer, the raw material in the products are no different.

Indeed, some seafood buyers, processors and Russian pollock producers will tell you there is minimal or no quality difference between single- and twice-frozen fish.

I can hear the screams from across Seattle offices from where I sit -- but the fact is, all the efforts to differentiate single-frozen pollock wouldn't be necessary if there were no minds to change.

Trident Seafoods has made the single-frozen message a core part of its trade marketing, and released a video on YouTube explaining the difference between pollock caught in Alaska and Russia.

The US pollock celebrated a victory with a 2015 ruling changing Alaska pollock's market name to simply "pollock." The law now allows US suppliers to highlight the Alaskan origin in other parts of the packaging only if it was harvested there.

Germany -- or the EU -- has no such rules in place, and Matthias Keller, managing director of the German Fish Processors Association (Bundesverband der Deutschen Fischindustrie und des Fischgroßhandels), told IntraFish any similar efforts in Germany would be misguided.

US pollock producers believe they can convince German consumers that there is a difference. Last spring GAPP began enlisting bloggers and using social media to raise awareness in Germany.

It's had some success -- notably, the nation's largest newspaper ran a story highlighting the different journeys single and twice-frozen pollock make.

I don't think the twice-frozen story is one for Russian producers to hide from. Certainly, Russia can offer the same picturesque views of the North Pacific as Alaska, so why not embrace the origin of their fish? Consumers recognize well enough that their food, clothing and other goods make sometimes byzantine trips before they make it to their home. Why not tell them at the very least where the trip began?

This doesn't need to be difficult. Pollock caught in US waters is Alaska pollock. Pollock caught in Russian waters should be Russian pollock. Pollock caught in the get the idea.

Both buyers and sellers of pollock will have to get on board any effort to get the name change to catch on in the trade (and there are of course very real regulations that would have to be changed), but it's probably time that they do so. Until the industry straightens this out, there is no way the consumer can, and a shopper confused about where their fish comes is likely to do one thing: buy chicken.

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Follow me on Twitter: @drewcherry


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