Seafood, sustainability and street food are on the mind of Iceland’s head of development Neil Nugent.
The supermarket wants to maintain its position as the number-one speciality seafood retailer, keep innovating on vegan food and follow the street food trend. As part of that ambition, it is introducing a raft of products in September.
Nugent tells Food Spark that a range of new seafood species are going to be put on sale at the supermarket, like hake, basa (a freshwater fish with a tender, mild flavour), cockles and shrimps with the shell on – not just from warm water, but cold water shrimp too.
It is also launching a by-catch bag of fish as well, says Nugent, which will weigh 600g and be sold for £4, with three or four species inside.
“When the day boats go out from Cornwall and the North Sea, they go out for cod, but there’s a lot of species that don’t necessarily get used in the UK, things like gurnards and megrim. We will sell them in a mixed bag and try and get people to use those species. I think that’s on trend – getting people to try things like megrim, which is a small flat fish and it’s delicious. It’s almost as good as a Dover sole, it’s milky and we want to get people to buy in to it,” he says.
“I think it’s quite a neat thing to do and is part of being sustainable and sourcing things correctly, and that’s in line with things we are doing with the sustainability point of view with plastic or palm oil.”
Food Spark has previously reported on unfashionable fish finding favour in the UK, with the Marine Conservation Society calling for local options to be chosen, instead of depleting the resources of the top five species that are eaten in the UK. Megrim, among others, were on the list of sustainable options.
But Nugent says the supermarket won’t leave customers floundering on how to use the unusual fish, with social media plans for the new ranges and potentially a pop-up seafood restaurant in London.
“There will be a lot of recipes and a lot of Instagram – those 15-second videos work really well for us ,” he says.
The by-catch bag will also be frozen on the day it’s caught, which is a massive benefit in terms of freshness, according to Nugent.
“Most fish sold in retail fish counters are a week or 10 days or 12 days old before they get there,” he says.
There is also a charge on vegan food with “a whole new cabinet” launching in September, says Nugent.
“We are quite excited about it after the success of the No Bull burger, which has been phenomenal. It’s outselling our wagyu burgers and we’ve not advertised it, it’s all been social media,” he says.
Nugent says veganism is being driven by social media as it’s a lifestyle movement.
“That is probably one of the first trends that has arrived in that format or that way, while a lot of trends come from restaurants. There are places like By Chloe in the UK with vegan-style restaurants, but I think it’s been a totally social-media-driven trend,” he says.
“What I do think is this vegan thing has such massive growth and it’s not necessarily about vegans. It’s about people flexing the diet and just choosing meat-free options a bit more than they have done before, so we have to follow that trend as customers are demanding it.”
Mexican street food
Street food is going to continue to dominate and retailers have to take note of it, says Nugent. Indian is leading this trend, with the supermarket launching its Mumbai Street Co range earlier this year.
But for autumn, they will be introducing a Mexican street food range, including classics like pulled chicken mole, chicken tinga, green corn and refried beans.
“There will be small portions, so you can mix it up a bit,” says Nugent. “Street food is very much a trend that keeps coming and coming at us. It tends to be cuisine led or might be a fried chicken or vegan burger. Indian and Mexican are leading the trend, but then we are looking at other key players in that for 2019.”
The rise of independent restaurants also makes Nugent excited, as he says there is a much more mixed bag of food trends to pick from and bring in to retail. He sees the decline of big chains in casual dining as an opportunity for independents to evolve food trends.
“You can see Prezzo, Jamie’s Italian and Byron closing and it’s going to leave spaces for independents to take it up. All these independents are starting up either as pop-ups or street food vendors, so that’s very exciting. It’s great for people who are in food development, because a trend can come from anywhere. It’s about the most exciting period of food since I’ve been in retail – there is so much going on,” he says.
Fast pace and prices
Trends are also happening a lot quicker these days and the supermarket has to be more responsive at times, rather than relying on the usual 10 to 12 months lead up for development work, admits Nugent. He says it’s crucial to have an innovation team that can fast-track processes in retail, otherwise supermarkets are going to trail their competitors.
But he says one trend that will never go away is mitigating costs.
“How do you maintain quality and price and value for your customer when there are challenges with food prices going up and dairy prices going up and exchange rates being challenging?” he asks. “Most of your development team, product developers and chefs will spend a lot of time doing that. I think with Brexit looming in March next year, we have all got to face the price challenges that are right in front of us as well.”