Food & Drinks

Big appetite for salmon drives sales

salmon

Salmon stop Kenya Founder Ghulam Nabi holding salmon fillets at City Market, Nairobi on November 10, 2021. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG

Summary

  • Salmon devotees in Kenya are increasing, thanks to the growing population of well-travelled people who want to enjoy exotic cuisines at home.
  • Furthermore, the shift is anchored by rising disposable income, because salmon is not cheap.
  • During the pandemic, the sale of salmon shot up. The closure of restaurants meant that salmon devotees cooked it at their homes.

Three years ago, with only Sh120,000, Ghulam Nabi, the owner of Salmon Stop Kenya bought his first stock of salmon fish. Coming from a family that has been in the business of selling meat since 1932, the fourth-generation businessman had noted a rising demand for different kinds of seafood.

“The stock was over within the week, and that cemented my supposition that there is a market for salmon,” Mr Nabi says, adding that within three months, he was selling up to 80 kilogrammes of salmon per week.

Salmon devotees in Kenya are increasing, thanks to the growing population of well-travelled people who want to enjoy exotic cuisines at home.

Mr Nabi says that not many Kenyans ate fish, let alone salmon a few years back, something that Elizabeth Wanjiru, another salmon seller can attest to too.

Closure of restaurants

At Likoni Shopping Mall in Nairobi, is Tamtam’s Fresh Seafood which Ms Wanjiru has been running for the past five years. Here, she sells fish and other aquatic products to customers who are in localities as far as Central Kenya.

What started as a side hustle is now her sole source of income. Among her bestsellers is the Norwegian salmon that she started importing due to customer demand.

fish

Salmon fillets and whole Salmon fish on display at Salmon stop Kenya City Market, Nairobi on November 10, 2021. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG

She says the fact that salmon which “is an acquired taste” is flying off her shelves is a testament to the surging interest in the imported, exotic fish and the changing taste buds of local buyers.

“When I started the business in 2016, not many people in Nairobi knew about this fish. In fact, part of my business model included educating people about fish. With time, they began to request for rare varieties,” Ms Wanjiru says.

Furthermore, the shift is anchored by rising disposable income, because salmon is not cheap.

“Most of my salmon customers are people from the Coast and people who have eaten the fish abroad,” Ms Wanjiru shares, adding another niche market are people visiting from abroad for work.

During the pandemic, the sale of salmon shot up. The closure of restaurants meant that salmon devotees cooked it at their homes.

Health-conscious consumers are also driving the demand for the fish. “Salmon is a nutritious type of fish popular among buyers those who are concerned about their health or restaurants that want to offer a healthier alternative in their menu,” Mr Nabi says.

Instagram and YouTube recipes have also played a role in enticing new buyers, not only for salmon but for imported mackerel.

“Being a fully online business, we are harnessing the power of social media. The videos and short documentaries have demystified a lot of information in regards to fish, instilling a willingness to try the seafood dishes among urban dwellers,” Ms Wanjiru says. Since it is not locally available, improved distribution channels and storage facilities have also played a role in the growth of salmon consumption.

Import from Norway

Sellers of salmon import it directly from Scandinavian countries or through an agency making it more expensive than other forms of white meat. Norway, a country known for its developed aquaculture industry that exports 95 percent of its aquaculture products, is the go-to for most importers.

“The fish arrives fresh and in tip-top quality for consumers to enjoy,” he says. “There’s the availability of infrastructure leading to more efficient storage, distribution, and marketing of the fish,” says Mr Nabi.

The delivery network in most towns has enabled Tam Tam’s Seafoods get the fish to the clients’ doorstep in Nanyuki, Narok, and Meru.

“We deliver within an hour of fresh arrivals,” she says of the fish that she sells 20 kilogrammes every one and a half weeks.

A whole salmon and salmon fillet rate from Sh2,400 and Sh3,000 per kilogramme respectively. Smoked salmon, consumed as a starter or used in salads, retails at Sh1,000 for 200 grammes.

“The price is a non-issue. If anything, eating salmon is an experience,” Mr Nabi, who also sells to restaurants says.

Just like the sweet-scented roses have thorns, the salmon business has its own. First is the rigours of handling very sensitive seafood.

For instance, Tam Tam’s deliveries are done in insulated boxes to ensure freshness and quality, and every new batch is recorded in real-time and the video posted to clients to see.

Secondly, importing fish is expensive. Small businesses like these have to walk the tight rope between using their resources to expand the business or restock.