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Fishy Tales: The Rise Of Salmon Sushi


When I mention sushi, what do you think of? I’m sure it’s the same for everyone: A thick juicy slice of dazzling orange salmon perched on a pure white bed of sugared rice.  But you’d be surprised that this wasn’t always the case.

Salmon only swam its way onto the sushi menu in 1995 by way of some epic branding done by the Norwegian Shipping and Fisheries Committee. It was the perfect example of Product Truth matching up with Consumer Truth, creating a sweet spot in the form of salmon sushi.

It was the mid 80s and Japan was going from a self-sufficient fishing industry to only 50% self-sufficient (due to overfishing and a remarking of national fishing zones). This posed a huge problem to Japan, as they were the world’s largest consumers of fish, consuming 45 kilograms per capita more than the world average. On the fishy flipside, Norway had a surplus of fish.

The dimmest college student wouldn’t require a SWOT analysis to figure out that this was an opportunity not to be missed. And the ‘S’ section of this analysis would also discover that in Japan, fish that was sold for the purpose of sushi fetched double the price compared to fish that was sold for non-sushi related consumption.

Can someone say cha-ching?

But Norway had to overcome some cultural faux pas before they could go on selling salmon to the Japanese by the barrels. This is where market research and understanding your product can help with any branding campaign.

Norway learnt that the Japanese people did not eat raw salmon. The preferred fish for sushi and sashimi were tuna and sea bream. The Japanese at the time only had access to wild pacific salmon, and it was considered dangerous to consume raw as they were exposed to parasites, and was also regarded as far too lean for sushi. This was the ah-ha moment for the Norwegians!

Now we have in our grasp the all-powerful USP, a unique selling point, where Norwegian salmon was marketed to address those worries of parasites and leanness.

But that was just the first obstacle.

How do you overturn a centuries-old culture of anti-salmon sushi? Enter: Brand ambassador!

Who better to be the ambassador of Norwegian salmon than the Norwegian ambassador himself? The Norwegians went full-force; knocking on every restaurant and hotel door, insisting that their fish was the best. The ambassador even went out of his way by serving Norwegian salmon sushi to all his guests, reiterating the quality of their beloved fish to the world.

As a result, Norway ended up increasing its seafood exports to Japan by 250% by 1994. If Norway doesn’t have an EFFIES Award yet, they sure as hell should.

Of course, a number of economic factors assisted in the successful branding of Salmon as a staple sushi dish. But this story reinforces the value of good, wholesome and holistic branding and its ability to propel your product to the forefront of the industry.

It requires deciphering your target, understanding your product, and the arduous process of continually communicating this story until sooner or later, you either tire-out or your Salmon ends up on the menu of every sushi restaurant in the world.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is how salmon rose to power within the sushi empire.

How can branding sell your product?

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