Those living in the Nordic countries can enjoy short-travelled and fresh fish from the surrounding oceans all year around. However, most of the Nordic fish production is actually exported. For the Nordic marine sector, staying competitive in the global market is thus vital, and requires continuous improvements and optimalisation of the value chain.
Researchers have for a longer period of time tried to find more sustainable ways to store fish for transportation. Subchilling is one of the most promising methods. It entails bringing the raw material to low temperatures without freezing more than 20% of its water, and preventing large ice crystals to form in the meat.
The Icelandic food processor company, Skaginn 3X, initiated the project and reached out to the other participants involved.
"We started this project because there was a lot of good research on the subchilling method, but not on an industrial scale. We already had the know-how and technology to make it work – and it did", R&D manager, Albert Högnason explains.
Nordic Innovation has supported the project financially as part of the Nordic Marine Innovation Program 2.0.
"We look for projects that contribute to the full potential of Nordic sectors through innovations that can increase business opportunities, sustainability and profitability. The subchilling project has successfully done just that, and it has been great to be able to back the realization of such an important technology", says Elisabeth Smith, Senior Innovation Adviser at Nordic Innovation.
According to the participants has cooperation on a Nordic level been vital to the development of the subchilling technology.
"We have a common background here in the Nordics. In my experience, this creates an informal, open and generous way of cooperating. I believe this is what makes our work more efficient", says Roger Pedersen, Public Relations Manager at Grieg Seafood.
"It has allowed us to learn from all parts of the supply chain, which I believe is a key element in developing the subchilling technology", says Matti Isohätälä from the Finnish processor company Hätälä Oy.
A gamechanger for the seafood industry
Providing fresh fish to the sushi restaurants in Japan requires storage technologies that ensure stable temperatures over a long period of time. Today, large quantities of ice are used for this purpose. Though ice may be decorative in the counters, it takes up space that could otherwise be utilized for fish in the EPS boxes. Moreover, the heavy load of ice increases the amount of fuel for shipping, and consequently also CO2 emissions and costs. Alternative solutions to ice could therefore have vast financial and environmental benefits.
"The subchilling method of conserving fish will be a gamechanger for the logistical obstacles in our industry. It is more cost-efficient, environmentally friendly and provides better quality of the product. This is well documented now due to this project. One would be crazy not to use it", Pedersen says.
The customers that have bought subchilled fish reports that it adds 2-3 days of shelf life to the product and reduces food waste.
"These are two of the biggest challenges in this industry, so I believe this technology brings great advantages to our industry, Isohätälä explains. "Our customers are very excited about this product, and those who have tried it love it", he continues.
Changing customers perceptions of fish
The biggest obstacle for the subchilling technology to succeed is customers’ perception of what fresh fish looks like.
"We travelled to Asia to demonstrate the quality of the subchilled fish. As a habit would the costumer immediately add ice to the fish in the store. The way we perceive fresh fish today is with ice", Pedersen explains.
Looking ahead, the project participants will focus on promoting this new method of conserving fish.
"We need to make them understand that with the subchilling technology we do not need the ice", Isohätälä says.
Furthermore, this new technology challenges existing regulations and definitions of fresh and frozen fish. There is a need to communicate to legislators that subchilled fish is not frozen.
"It is going take time to change the industry, but we have started", says Högnason.
The project is owned by Grieg Seafood and in cooperation with Matis, Norway Seafood, Hätälä Oy, Iceprotein, FISK Seafood and Skaginn 3X.