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Consumption of fish is a key to health

We continue our conversation about the development of the fish industry of Kazakhstan. In the previous publications we talked about aquaculture and production of feed, and today we will discuss another important topic - Consumption of fish.

These people join us today: the chairman of the development council of the Company, the member of board of the Republican Association of public organizations of fishermen and fisheries "Kazakhrybhoz" Sungat Batyrbekov and the President of the Association of Chefs of Kazakhstan, honorary member of the French Gastronomic Academy and the European Culinary Community, a multiple gold medalist of international competitions, a judge of the international category of the World Association of Culinary Communities Alexandr  Tregubenko,

Sungat, which trends in terms of consumption of fish could you note?

Sungat Batyrbekov: First of all, I would like to give a brief introduction to the market of fish retailing. There are several segments of the market. First one is the retail market, represented by trade networks of A and B+ categories, such as Metro, Magnum, Skif, etc. The next segment is the B and C categories: markets, little stores next to home, small trading centers, which are inferior to networks both in terms of a range of products and technical opportunities. A retail center has premises and special equipment to effectively market a product, whereas little shops and marketplaces have limited opportunities. Although this segment is still important for our consumers, as many people go to markets, including wholesale markets, out of habit. And the third segment is the system of HoReCa, connecting hotels, restaurants and catering companies. In terms of fish consumption, this sector is at a developing stage.

With regards to the products of our company, they are divided into their origins: freshwater, aquatic and artificially bred (aquaculture). Depending on the processing technology fish can be chilled, frozen, salted, smoked, dried, frost, canned, etc.  Also, our products depending on the segment of the consumer market are divided into whole fish, fillets, all kinds of cuts, semi-finished products, snacks, etc. All of these determines the representation of fish in the consumer market. Retail stores tend to market highly processed products - they can be cut or packaged. In the B and C segments, fish is usually sold unprocessed, it is just peeled and gutted.

 - Nevertheless, the consumption of fish in Kazakhstan is at a low level, and we already wrote about this in our previous materials.

- Indeed, the consumption of fish in Kazakhstan is very low. The simplest way of calculating consumption is the next: annual internal catch plus import for the year minus annual exports, taking into account technological yield and losses, the resulting value is divided by the number of people and get the number of kilograms of fish consumed per capita per year. According to official data, this figure is 3-5 kg. While the household survey method shows that people of the country have consumed 8-10 kg of fish and seafood over the past 3 years. According to our estimations, the average figure of 6-8 kg seems to be real. It should be noted that the rate of fish consumption recommended by the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan is 14 kg per person per year. In the USSR consumption of fish was close to this figure. Many still remember the "fish Thursday." Based on these data, we can claim for sure that the volume of the fish consumption market in Kazakhstan is twice bigger.

- How can this happen?

- Obviously, fish is a healthy dietary product; it contains light protein, essential microelements, and healthy fats. These are well-known facts. But people of Kazakhstan still consume fish in very little quantities. There are several reasons for that. First of all, that’s the price. When meat and fish cost the same, a consumer will definitely pick the meat. Because people tend to think that animal and bird meat is more nutritious, which is a very controversial statement. Reducing the price of fish can only be achieved through increasing production and fish sales in Kazakhstan. This would result in the reduction of the cost price, and eventually, fish prices.

The next reason for insufficient fish consumption is our traditional cousin, which is mainly based on red meat and it is unlikely to change this attitude. It is a complicated task, but, we, people engaged in the fish industry, will try to achieve this gradually. The third factor, limiting consumption of fish, is a number of myths about the risks of infection by consuming fish. Indeed, as any living organism fish are also susceptible to disease, often being their carrier. But these risks may apply to any kind animal protein - animal meat or poultry meat.

In other words, fish diseases are no more harmful to people than diseases arising out of pigs or chickens. It is all about following sanitary safety rules in livestock, poultry, and fisheries.

A biased attitude towards fish, in this regard, illustrates the lack of awareness of consumers about minimizing risks of infection. And this is primarily culinary processing of the product. Many bacteria are eliminated when exposed to heat treatment, first when the product is frozen, then cooked at high temperatures. Definitely, the quality of fish makes sense, that is the whole process of fish production, including catching and processing, delivering from a store to a plate of the consumer. But heat treatment is a determining factor in product safety.

With regards to our traditional preferences, I would like to note, that we have not yet formed a healthy diet culture.  Indeed, all over the world, consumption of fish grows considerably when spring and summer come. Additionally, fish is a light protein, at the same time very nutritious. A person consuming fish may not worry about extra kilos compared to a meat eater.  In our country, when warm days come, consumption of mutton, pork increases, people go to picnics, make barbecues. What about making barbecue and kebabs of fish? It is necessary to change taste preferences, at least to be in the trend of being in shape and healthy. Grilled fish of various sorts with light white wine is a good and tasty decision

- Alexandr, this question is for you. As a head of the Association of Chefs of Kazakhstan, how would you solve the problem of under consumption of fish?

Alexandr Tregubenko: HoReCa sector itself and specifically restaurants follow requests of their guests. If a guest orders a lump of meat, we will prepare this dish. However, people tend to maintain a healthy diet, counting calories. And fish is the unquestionable solution. It can be prepared in various ways, it does not necessarily have to be boiled to be low calorie.

Consumption of fish dishes in the sector of HoReCa in Kazakhstan, according to statistical data, is only 15-18% of all sales. Why is that? First of all, it can be attributed to the low culture of fish consumption in our country.  In Russia, for instance, the proportion of fish consumption is much higher - approximately 50%, but it can be explained by the well-developed fish industry and culinary traditions. There are a number of specialized restaurants, in Moscow serving only fish. Here, we have only a few.

- How would you like to popularize fish dishes?

- We want to change eating habits and show that fish can be used for the preparation of a number of delicious dishes. Not just fried fish or pollack, but also a wide range of special and children's meals. Although children tend not to eat much fish, we should remember that it is of great importance for their comprehensive development.  This is why, we are to make fish dishes more popular not only among professional chefs, who already know many receipts but also among consumers.

Also, I would like to mention a good Soviet tradition of fish days, which were an important part of public catering. Every Thursday all places, including canteens and restaurants used to serve only fish dishes. Today, we cannot force somebody to do this. I think fish consumption should consist of several stages. First of all, we need the support of recognized experts in healthy dies. They could explain to people the benefits of fish for diet. In this issue, the Kazakh Nutrition Institute and Ministry of Healthcare could help us.

Let's remember the experience of the USA, where people traditionally preferred drinks containing a high percentage of alcohol. They for organizing master-classes explained why it is important to consume wine, how to consume it, also told about its advantages. As a result,  in 15 years the consumption of wine grew up as opposed to the consumption of alcohol, which declined. Another example is Israel. Until a certain time, its people did not consume turkey. The adopted state program on clarification of benefits of this product was fruitful, as today turkey is the most sold type of meat in the country's market. People began to order a turkey in restaurants, production of ready-to-cook products, sausages and other delicacies of this bird has increased.

Nowadays, we have begun work on systematic popularization of fish products in our country. Last year, our Association began cooperation with the "Rybprom" company. We launched a calendar with recipes for dishes of our fish products. These local products are affordable. Menus of many restaurants now include dishes of the local fish. Fish is well sold in cafes and canteens. There is also demand for cold and hot fish snacks served during special events.

It should be noted that according to the world trend, the qualification of a chef is determined by his or her ability to cook both from seasonal and local products. There is nothing special about chopping overseas shrimps and lobsters, pouring over it avocado sauce and waiting until you are called the maestro of Kazakhstan. You will not be called that. You will have to prepare a delicious and original dish using local fish, greens, and vegetables. This will demonstrate that you are a high-level specialist.

Many chefs today are turning away from products, made within a radius of 350-500 km. More and more people realize that only those products, consumption of which is incorporated at the genetic level, are absorbed well and benefits us. A European who has tried horse meat for the first time may feel bad, just as a Kazakh person, who is abroad, may not digest a dish from local products. We have been recently invited to the Arabic cafe during the Food Fest in Dubai. It was a very popular place in the city, but we were not impressed by it. It is important to look at origins and prepare dishes from local products, and they should be seasonal.

- Sungat, which fish is trendy in this season in Kazakhstan?

Sungat Batyrbekov: The period of freshwater fish is to start closer to summer. For example, perch, pike, and sea bass and dorado, which have become popular among our people. Also, there will be a lot of local aquaculture trout, instead of imported salmon. It is a great light dish during hot summer days.

- Alexandr, can you tell us please, how have you begun cooperation with the company "Rybprom" ?

Alexandr Tregubenko: Our Association of chefs was established 11 years ago in order to promote our profession and our products, in other words, to develop the local market. We have found common ground with the  company "Rybprom"  - a leading producer of fish in Kazakhstan. First of all, we visited its facilities, familiarized with the technological cycle of production.  It was important to us to make sure that finished products are of good quality. We saw that fish has been processed correctly. Then we cooked some dishes from the company's products, and we were very happy. We find this cooperation interesting and new. We want to be pioneers in promoting a culture of fish consumption in the country.

We organized a series of joint master-classes. In October last year, we took part in the organization and hosting the Chef Battle culinary competition which gathered more than a hundred chefs from all over Kazakhstan, overseas and neighboring countries. "Rybprom" offered its products, which were used by the chef during the competition. This year such an event will take place at the end of May. We will see dozens of new recipes, as the principle of a culinary competition is creativity. Chefs are given an unknown set of products and then, they should create an original dish on the open fire. "Rybprom" Company's fish did well in such a barbecue. This year we will be joined by Polish chefs, who will be cooking their national dishes from fish, including our pike perch, carp, and trout.

Sungat Batyrbekov: In our office, we have prepared a special professionally equipped studio. Our duty is to develop fish consumption, therefore we spend all of our resources for such activities. And not only our products are promoted in this way. It is important for us to increase fish consumption in Kazakhstan. As a member of the "Kazakhrybhoz" Association, our company is a voice of corporate interest. We are all interested in the development of the fish industry, despite being competitors.  For example, we will organize a joint exhibition stand at the Exhibition of Food Industry, which will take place at the beginning of November.

Apart from "Chef Battle", mentioned by Alexandr, master-classes on the preparation of specific fish types, such as pike perch will be organized. In June, we are to host a barbecue master-class, which is based on street cooking of certain fish sorts, and it could be an alternative to lamb kebabs. Pike perch and grilled perch are our alternatives to overseas grilled salmon. In Autumn, we are going to launch and present a book of fish recipes - special publications, which would be interesting not only for professional chefs and but also for housewives.

Alexandr Tregubenko: Master-classes will continue in September, after holidays, when the wedding season starts. We want to prove that fish products can take their rightful place on a wedding table. We would like to create a series of beautiful fish dishes and invite the best chefs. And we are talking not only about hot dishes. Fish can be used for salads, mousses, pies, baked snacks and aspic.

Sungat Batyrbekov: The relevance of fish consumption and fish industry can be seen from the example of the "Rybprom" company. We are progressively developing and growing. For instance, at the begging of this year a new company - Aqua Food Trade - was created. And in this was we separated production and marketing processes, in order to focus on our consumers' tastes and preferences. In addition to sales of our products, the newly established company distributes products of Russian brands, such as "Baltic shore", "Lunar Sea" and "Treasure of Oceans". We have done this in the interest of our Kazakh consumer, who should be offered various options - either to purchase to Zaisan perch or sea bass, Aral Flounder of halibut. Do not forget, the wider a range of products is offered, the better. Furthermore, we have to import fish products. As there are not herring, pollock, sardines and ocean fish in the country.

Today we have 6 brands. These are the 3 above mentioned Russian companies and 3 brands of our company - the same name brand, BRAMA (ready-to-cook preparations, fish fast food) and the "Клёвые (Klyovye)" snack group. At least 2 additional brands will be created by the end of the year. For instance, "Rybprom" is going to start caviar production. The further plans include the production of pike, trout caviar, as well as the caviar of asp, carp, perch, perch. Also, the production of smoked fish is being considered now. We will start with trout, grown in aquaculture facilities of the country, which we closely cooperate with. I promise that our products will be at least the same quality as imported ones. All our plans, including improvement of the quality of our products, as well introduction of new ones, and quality of service, are intended to enhance the credibility of products of the fish industry of Kazakhstan. The further development of this sector and growth of fish consumption will improve our diet and health, helping Kazakhstani people live longer.

- Thanks for the exciting conversation. Best of luck!