Seafood International, March 2009
offers cool savings
Ben DiPietro super-frozen, and 90 percent of Uoriki’s tuna “Japanese consumers probably
business in Japan involves super-frozen prod-
ith the restaurant industry ucts. Japanese consumers are known to have
are the most difficult seafood
suffering as much as any sec- sophisticated palates when it comes to sea- consumers in the world, they’re
tor from the global economic food, and the fact they accept super-frozen is certainly the most educated. We
downturn, eateries are look- a strong endorsement of its quality and taste, have seafood markets where we
ing hard to find cost savings said McNicholas.
wherever they can be found.
do $50,000 (€39,000) a day in
This is creating great opportunities in the Tough crowd seafood and there are supermar-
United States for super-frozen tuna, which “Japanese consumers probably are the most kets in the U.S. who would love to
until now has suffered from the stigma of hav- difficult seafood consumers in the world, do $50,000 a quarter.”
ing the word “frozen” in its name, even though they’re certainly the most educated. We Michael McNicholas, sales and
it has nothing in common with the frozen have seafood markets where we do $50,000
seafood that makes chefs cringe when they are (€39,000) a day in seafood and there are su- marketing executive at Uoriki
asked to buy it instead of fresh fish. permarkets in the U.S. who would love to do Fresh Inc.
“There’s a natural negative perception of $50,000 a quarter,” he said. “The fact we’re
frozen in the United States, and it’s some- investing so much time and effort here to bring
thing that will take time for us to overcome,” it here means that we want to teach American
said Michael McNicholas, sales and marketing chefs, and the American supermarkets, this is six hours – it is as fresh as it was the day it was
executive at Uoriki Fresh Inc., a Japan-based the way to go.” landed on the boat by the fishermen.
seafood supplier with $250 million (€194 mil- Super-frozen tuna is cut and bled, then put Because waste - byproducts, skin, blood,
lion) in turnover that in April purchased the into freezers at temperatures of minus-76 bone – all are taken off before the tuna is fro-
North American super-frozen business from degrees Fahrenheit within an hour of being zen, there’s no waste for chefs and retailers
Japan-based Mitsubishi. caught by fishermen, preserving it in as close who can cut the fish to their specifications
“The economy actually is a primary reason to its natural state as possible. and sizes. “Culinarians, they have no problem,
people are being so open minded,” he said. It can stay at this temperature until it is they know something frozen correctly and
Eighty percent of the tuna sold in Japan is needed, and once thawed – a process that takes thawed correctly is as good as anything they
Seafood International, March 2009
intrafish.com Tuna 31
about 30 percent, he said. “We have a tuna cevi-
Super frozen: one major che here and there is no waste on the product.
u.S. restaurant chain cut its I give it to my guys and I don’t have to worry
tuna costs 30 percent using if it’s cleaned properly,” he said.
super-frozen product. pHo- “Sometimes they leave a little [muscle] sinew
ToS: uoriki fresh Inc. – and you don’t have a consistent thing on the
plate. With this, you have all sorts of cuts. They
have bits, which are really kind of cheap, it’s
JapaneSe favorITe: Eighty percent of the from the end pieces, and we use those for our
tuna sold in Japan is super-frozen. tuna burgers, which are great and half the price
of normal tuna.”
enough about how happy they are with the In its sales literature, Uoriki shows potential
super-frozen product. buyers that, although they pay more per pound
Garey Hiles, executive chef and operating for super-frozen than fresh tuna, it ultimately
partner at the Oceanaire in Orlando, Fla., began costs less because there is no loss, no shrink,
using super-frozen tuna in the middle of last and no waste.
year, and now won’t buy any other kind. Lettuce Entertain You leaves it up to the
“I’ve pretty much stopped using all tuna individual restaurant operators to decide if
except super-frozen,” said Hiles. “The quality they want to use it, and how much to use it,
is spectacular. There’s a reason why 80 per- but Hockett said he tries to get the chefs to
cent of the tunas going into Japan are frozen. understand the value of serving the super-
The quality is unmatched. It’s a consistent frozen product. “It makes total sense when
product.” chefs see it.”
Some of his wait staff inform diners they are Hiles uses super-frozen tuna for Ocean-
eating super-frozen tuna, and Hiles said no aire’s sashimi and tartare dishes, and for a
one has complained about eating frozen fish. special katsu dish that includes tuna rolled in
“I think like all Americans, when you mention nori seaweed that is sprinkled with panko and
frozen, they think of things that come out quick-fried before being covered in a ginger
of refrigerator. This is a completely different curry cream sauce.
process,” he said. “There is no loss, no tearing, He is averaging purchases of between 80
like you find in other American frozen fish. pounds and 120 pounds a week. “All the dishes
That won me over.” have been spectacular,” he said.
One concern super-frozen advocates have
Eco-friendly fish is confusion among potential customers and
Tim Hockett, corporate chef at Chicago-based consumers with carbon dioxide-treated tuna,
Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, which oper- which some retailers and restaurants use to
ates nearly three dozen restaurant concepts give tuna a fresh-looking color long after the
across the country, said all the benefits of no tuna should be considered fresh. While most
waste and low carbon footprint would matter of the world - including all of Europe, Canada,
little unless the tuna tasted as good, or better Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and China – have
than the fresh or other forms being sold. banned CO-treated tuna, it remains legal to
“We tested the product maybe six or eight sell it in the United States.
months ago. We saw the product at a food show While the law requires such product to
can get fresh, particularly with seafood, which and it just looked like [it had] great quality, great be labeled “color added” or “preserved with
has more moisture and muscle fiber structure flavor, sweetness, texture,” he said. “That’s all smoke” or with some other identification, most
than meat and breaks down quicker,” said good, but if the product didn’t taste good, we supermarkets fail to do this, said McNicholas.
McNicholas, who works out of Uoriki’s New wouldn’t have picked it up.” “The U.S. is about the only developed country
Jersey office. “Properly frozen, the product The consistent pricing and consistent quality that allows CO-treated meat and tuna, which
can’t be beat.” super-frozen tuna offers is hard to find with I find incredulous,” he said. “This is a country
fresh tuna, which Hockett called hit or miss. where we pride ourselves on consumer protec-
How frozen is super-frozen? “Sometimes you get something and the color is tion, and we clearly allow a technology that
Using the same technology medical science off, sometimes it’s a little softer. Super-frozen is designed simply and solely to deceive the
deploys to preserve body parts – think of the has a consistent texture and color.” consumer.”
frozen heads of Walt Disney and baseball great Some restaurants in the chain buy 25 pounds A bigger challenge, McNicholas said, is
Ted Williams – tuna is preserved absolutely, a week, others between 75 pounds and 125 maintaining the cold chain to ensure super-
which means there is no rush to get it to mar- pounds, he said. frozen tuna keeps the proper temperatures
ket, and little carbon footprint, as the product With fresh tuna, if you don’t move it, you throughout the handling process. That said,
does not have to be flown anywhere. wrap it up and try to keep it on ice, and maybe he sees a bright future for super-frozen in the
“Super-frozen has no frequent flier miles. you get two, three or four more days of using United States, which he likens to where Japan
There is nothing flown anywhere,” said it before it deteriorates, he said. was in the process two decades ago.
McNicholas. “With this, we get it in a frozen state, keep “If we went back 20 years in Japan, it is no
“We process it at the source and the only it packed in dry ice and it stays in that state. different than it is today [in the U.S.]. If we go
product we are shipping is product that is Our seafood purveyor has one of those su- forward 20 years, you will see super-freezers
usable.” per-freezers,” said Hockett. “They bring in 10 in every supermarket holding product at mi-
Whole Foods is selling the company’s super- pounds, we thaw it out and use it right away, nus-76 degrees,” he said. “You will see distribu-
frozen tuna at its stores, and several other rather than getting 100 pounds of tuna in and tors, broadliners and even cold storage places
major retailers are negotiating deals, he said. having it doing its thing.” hold product at minus-76 degrees.
Restaurant chains such as The Oceanaire Room “Super-frozen tuna is still in its infancy in
and Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises have Big savings this country. It is certainly something that will
signed on, and some of their chefs cannot say That has allowed the chain to cut its tuna costs come in the future.”