Sustainability trends driving shift to cleaner technologies in seafood industry

At a Clean Smoke technology webinar, hosted by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), Ireland’s Seafood Development Agency earlier this month (Friday, July 2nd) seafood processors learnt about the benefits of this technology compared to traditional smoking of species such as salmon and mackerel. Clean smoke technology involves the use of sawdust, an industry by-product, being smouldered and then subject to various filtration processes to create purified smoke.

BIM’s Katie Healy gave an outline of the domestic market in Ireland – currently valued at over €6m – where traditional smoked salmon and mackerel has significant recognition as a high-quality Irish artisan product. She then went on to explain how the clean smoking technology works – showing participants a short video of this process in action in a retrofitted smoking oven – and provided information of the benefits which include:

BIM developed their own programmes of smoking at the Seafood Innovation Hub in Clonakilty, where they now want seafood processors who use traditional smoking to trial this technology there. Healy also gave the results of a blind tasting survey which showed that 70% of those who tried the clean smoked product thought it was a traditional smoked product. A sensory analysis saw the clean smoked product scoring higher than the traditional one on flavour, aroma and texture.

The production time for hot smoked salmon in the BIM processing programme was 1.5 hours – compared to a traditional smoking time of 4-8 hours. With the clean smoked cold product, it took 5 hours compared to a traditional production time of 6-24 hours.

BIM’s Gavin McGrath showed the results of a Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) carried out by the agency which highlighted the major savings to be accrued on an initial capital outlay of €25,000 on cleaning smoking equipment. Comparing the production of 375,000 tonnes over 50 weeks annually, the savings of the clean smoking process compared to traditional smoking, were €13,000 per annum.

“This means a payback period of two years on the initial capital invested,” McGrath pointed out.

BIM’s Caitriona McCarthy told the audience that “desirability” and “sustainability” were key when it came to consumers and retailers embracing more environmentally friendly produce: “There is a need to understand that consumer demands, and preferences are important here. GlobeScan research for 2020 show that 50% of consumers want their lifestyle to be more environmentally friendly, but only 25% have actually made that move yet.”

She said that consumers are now seeking more information about products and looking at ways they can reduce impact on the planet. Clean smoke technology is already 60 years old and used in a variety of European countries, including Germany, Belgium and the Ukraine, while a Clean Smoking Coalition group has also been established which provides members with a logo for their clean smoked packaged products.

Seán Ryan, Business Development Director at Kerry said: “While smoking technology has been around for decades there has been a significant increase in the interest in its benefits over the last three years. This has been driven by both the consumer demand for more sustainable solutions and policy changes including the EU Green Deal and emissions directives. Kerry is a leading supplier of smoke flavourings globally and we work with customers across the world who wish to improve the sustainability of their products while also creating great tasting and nutritious food.

Recent UK consumer research showed that 77% of those surveyed has either switched or boycotted brands, that they didn’t feel allayed their environmental concerns. In addition, new Kerry Group research shows that 89% of consumers expect businesses to invest in sustainability and four in five believe that food producers should be more sustainable in their manufacturing processes.

Consumers want to see less water usage and waste, lower carbon emissions and healthier products. Given the focus that COVID-19 has put on our global supply chain and on sustainability, I expect this will remain a focus going forward,” Ryan concluded.