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TV takes credit for soaring crab sales

PUBLISHED: 07:54 31 May 2008 | UPDATED: 08:59 13 July 2010

TUCKING into a crab used to be an occasional treat reserved for trips to the seaside and special Sunday teas.

But now the crustaceans, best known for travelling sideways, have surged forward on the everyday menu of the great British public.

TUCKING into a crab used to be an occasional treat reserved for trips to the seaside and special Sunday teas.

But now the crustaceans, best known for travelling sideways, have surged forward on the everyday menu of the great British public.

And television celebrity chefs are being flagged up as one of the reasons behind the boom.

Over the past year the amount of crabs and crab meat bought by Brits has increased by 54pc, taking the total weight past the 2m lb mark for the first time ever - and generating £16.7m of sales income for what is often perceived as a quaint cottage industry.

In fishing towns such as Cromer generations of local folk have boiled freshly caught crabs in backstreet yards for sale on the slabs of local shops and plates of local cafes.

But today more and more products are seen on major supermarket shelves too as demand grows, with increasingly adventurous food shoppers having their appetites whetted by TV chefs' recipes.

Sustainable seafood was recently highlighted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, while the west country's Rick Stein also majors on dishes fished from the deep, and Norfolk's own Delia Smith featured tinned crab meat in her recent “how to cheat” series.

Supermarkets such as Tesco, Asda and Marks and Spencer have already responded to the growing demand for crab and introduced new products this year. And by July, Waitrose will have doubled its range of crab, said Seafish, the industry authority on seafood.

North Norfolk's celebrity chef Galton Blackiston conceded that he and his high-profile colleagues had made a significant impact.

“I am amazed at the size of the increase, but anything on television has a massive influence,” said the figurehead of Morston Hall's award-winning restaurant. “There is a lot of interest about food among the public, and there has never been a better time for chefs.

“We have crab on the menu four or five times this week. We use it because we like to promote local produce - so crab, lobster, mussels and oysters are often on the menu, but it is also a healthy, tasty food,” said Mr Blackiston, who is being filmed crab fishing later this week for a Sky channel programme called Market Kitchen.

“Cromer crabs are not as big as Cornish and spider ones - but the meat is sweeter and like liquid gold,” he added.

His only worry was the potential impact the popularity boom might have on local crab stocks, which have struggled in recent years.

However fishermen's spokesman Ivan Large was confident the boom was only good news for a currently “buoyant” industry.

“It doesn't make much difference here, because the fishermen can sell everything they catch”, he explained, with the harvest from the pots going to crab factories as well as local shops and restaurants.

The chairman of the Wells and North Norfolk fishermen's associations dismissed concerns that the boom would see other types of fishermen, who were struggling against quotas, switching to shellfish to grab a share of a lucrative market - because a tightening up of licensing system stopped that happening several years ago.

Cromer Crab Company managing director Mike Grey welcomed the increased popularity of crab among customers, which was resulting in continued sales growth, but said the long-term sustainability of the British crab needed responsible fishery management which was “something we are particularly focused on.”

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