Scandinavian salmon gets 'hero' treatment in Hong Kong

Seafood council zeros in on Hong Kong's appetite for raw fish

HONG KONG — It's a little-known fact that most of the raw salmon consumed in sushi-mad Hong Kong does not come from Japan. A first-ever B2C campaign by the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC) is working to change the "little-known fact" part.

The Norwegian seafood industy's success erasing Japan's aversion to raw salmon starting 40 years ago makes a fascinating story. The campaign now underway in Hong Kong has an easier task: People here already love salmon but aren't necessarily aware of where it comes from.

The Norwegian Seafood Council's product positioning for salmon in the Hong Kong and China markets is that "Norwegian salmon is perfect for sashimi."

In other global markets, cooked or prepared salmon products (such as salmon fillets or smoked salmon slices) are preferred, and present different starting points for marketing.

Sigmund Bjorgo, director of mainland China and Hong Kong at the NSC, broke it down in an interview (that unfortunately did not involve liberal sampling of the fish):

  • Raw salmon = indulgence of taste
  • Salmon sushi = filling the stomach
  • Cooked salmon = nutrition

The majority of salmon consumed in the Hong Kong and mainland China markets is the raw type, while dining out. Work by Madison Communications for the NSC to build Norwegian salmon up as the indulgent fish of choice started in 2012 through above- and below-the-line advertising, point-of-sale materials, digital/social media, PR and events.

Due to these efforts, Bjorgo claims the Hong Kong market share of Norwegian salmon is now an overwhelming 97% against key salmon competitors from Scotland, Chile and Faroe Islands.

 In China, however, it is a different story. The country imposed import restrictions for Norwegian salmon from 2010 onwards after Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo received the Nobel Peace Prize (albeit in absentia). In addition to this complication, quarantine times for the product entering China are impractically long (up to two weeks).

Thus, Bjorgo has been concentrating marketing forces in Hong Kong in a four-week campaign, with a budget of around HK$5 million ($645,000).

The most overt channels were outdoor: bus bodies, stickers at the back of bus seats, bus shelters and posters in MTR stations.


"A media agency will not typically recommend OOH [for B2B marketing], but we deliberately chose outdoor ads to inspire pride and confidence in the salmon supply chain," Bjorgo said. "It is also a way of giving something back to the hotels, restaurants and caterers [known collectively as the 'Horecas' sector] by driving traffic to their outlets."

A total of 60 outlets from 12 F&B chains are participants in the campaign, laying out POS materials on tables and sticking their NSC certificates on walls.


Since salmon sashimi is already a popular choice in local Japanese eateries, the battlefield is now extending to influencing dining-out decisions and increasing consumption frequency.

"Purchase preference along the value chain all the way to the end consumer is very solid and strong," added Samuel Mak, CEO at Madison Communications. "We need to keep conquering the mental turf." 

The agency has gone to lengths to imagine simulated Chinese and English dialogues between consumers. "Believe it or not, we actually stick these chats on the brainstorming board in our internal creative and planning sessions," said Mak.

The results of the campaign, in terms of the reception of Norwegian salmon, will be measured via an annual online survey administered by TNS of 20,000 respondents, of which 800 will be from Hong Kong. 

This article first appeared on


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