Statisticians boot 'tinned' salmon out of British shopping basket

Posted: Sunday, March 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The British government's Office for National Statistics has booted canned salmon from the ''basket'' of goods and services it tracks to compile a monthly Retail Prices Index, and Alaska marketers worry that the country's taste for the product is dying out.

The statistics agency said it reshuffled the 650 item in the basket to better reflect changing consumer spending patterns.

Besides canned salmon, the agency removed loose tea, powdered skim milk and cassette tapes. They added frozen prawns, sliced cheese, frozen vegetarian meals and DVD players.

The changes ''suggest that households are adapting their eating habits to cope with busy lives, leisure patterns and changing tastes,'' the statistics office said in a news release headlined ''Prawns freeze out tinned salmon.''

Great Britain has long been the most important market for canned Alaska salmon, particularly the premium red or sockeye salmon. In recent years, Britain has proven a reliable if unexciting customer of Alaska's wild fish, which has been trampled in major fresh and frozen markets such as the United States and Japan by a flood of foreign farmed fish.

Little farmed salmon is canned.

A big worry for salmon packers is that the British taste for canned salmon is dying out with war-era generations raised on canned fish.

Barbara Belknap, executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said Friday that canned salmon's boot from the British price index is no big deal. She said Andrew Brown, ASMI's England-based marketing representative for Northern Europe, reported that although canned salmon was tossed from the basket, it remains an item major retailers track in their own surveys.

Belknap said she doesn't believe canned Alaska salmon is about to fade into oblivion anytime soon in Great Britain.

''It's still a staple,'' she said. ''It's like peanut butter in America, you know? It's there.''

Earlier this month, Belknap and Gov. Tony Knowles personally promoted salmon and other Alaska seafood in London as part of a European trade mission.

They hosted a luncheon for top British newspaper and magazine food writers. On the menu was Alaska coho salmon, halibut, king crab, black cod and snow crab.

No canned salmon, though.

She said the food writers were impressed to learn that all the tasty seafood they ate was frozen.

''It was an incredible meal and it really got the attention of what I would call a very jaded audience,'' she said.

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