JON Erik Steenslid is on a mission to win over the world to Norwegian seafood.
Steenslid, 46, is pursuing this goal as the Southeast Asia regional director of the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC), which is “creating a knowledge and preference for Norway as the country of origin for the best seafood in the world”, he says.
“It is without doubt a challenging task because Norway is a country far away from Southeast Asia, and we do not have any major brands that identify us in this region except from seafood,” says Steenslid, who is also fond of Thai dishes such as pad thai.
The NSC is a public company owned by Norway’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries. It works together with the Norwegian fisheries and aquaculture industry to develop markets for Norwegian seafood exporters.
The council’s main goal for 2019 is to continue to increase the recognition of Norwegian salmon in key Southeast-Asian markets by communicating the Norwegian origin through marketing and PR activities spread out over the whole year, he says.
“We are very fortunate to be working closely with major market players in the region to achieve this, and we see that it is creating mutual benefits and positive results,” he says. “For Thailand, it will be especially important to educate the consumers about the best salmon in the world and where it comes from.”
According to Steenslid, more than 50 per cent of all raw fish dishes sold in sushi restaurants in Bangkok are salmon-based. However, most consumers believe the salmon they eat at Japanese restaurants comes from Japan, when in fact there is most likely no Japanese salmon in the Thai market.
He adds that the domestic market for salmon in Thailand can be divided into fresh and frozen products. In the fresh category, Norwegian salmon has a market share of more than 90 per cent.
He says that the influence of Japanese food in Bangkok is very strong, with the capital hosting the highest number of Japanese restaurants outside Japan, Steenslid says. “This situation is not unique for Thailand, as is something we see across markets in Southeast Asia, but it is especially strong in Thailand.
“To raise awareness of the Norwegian origin among Thai consumers is a work in progress, and we have increased our investments over the past few years. This is a big job that requires time and presence to succeed, but we are already seeing good results from the work we are doing.”
He says Thailand has become the most important market for Norwegian seafood in Southeast Asia.
“It has long been an important market as such, but previously more for processing and re-export to other Asian countries, especially Japan,” he says.
“Now, on the other hand, we see that a vast majority of the Norwegian seafood is consumed domestically as consumers have better purchasing power and are asking for more high quality products. I think this trend will continue for Thailand helped by growing purchasing power and urbanisation, as well as being a massive tourist destination attracting millions of travellers every year.”
The NSC is also actively investing in Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan because these are also its main markets in the region where it has a strong position.
“We also see increased consumption of Norwegian seafood in other markets such as Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, and I hope and believe we will be able to invest in these markets as well in the future to build knowledge and preference for Norway and Norwegian seafood,” Steenslid says.
Steenslid has lived and worked in the seafood business more or less all his life as he was educated within international seafood marketing in Norway.
“My fascination for this business came about at a young age when my mother, a Japanese national, married a Norwegian and living in Norway, started her own company to export Norwegian seafood to Japan. She was one of the pioneers in this trade, and I was fascinated by it,” he says.
Steenslid has been based in Singapore since 2014, in charge of all NSC marketing activities in Southeast Asia.
“Despite being born and raised in Norway, I feel a very strong connection with my Japanese and Asian side, which I think is why I really love being in this region and feel so much at home,” he says.
“Norway is, and has always been, a seafood nation with our long coastline and cold clear waters producing large amounts of seafood. Before Norway became a rich oil nation we were a rather poor country, and the harvesting of seafood was key to livelihood and food.
“The seafood industry in Norway has very long traditions, and we can actually trace export of Norwegian seafood all the way back to the Vikings, who used it to trade other products. Seafood is still very important to Norwegians, who have among the highest seafood consumption per capita rates in the world.”
As for his management style, Steenslid views leadership as an action, not a position.
“I believe a good leader leads by example, has the ability to inspire and motivate his co-workers to do a better job, to make them feel appreciated and, importantly, that their work matters.
“In short a good leader makes his or her co-workers perform better. A challenge can represent an opportunity or a problem depending on how you look at it, and I like to think of it as something positive. I like to deal with challenge by allowing myself enough time to properly assess and understand the situation in order to react in the best possible way.
“It is also important to seek help and advice from others if possible, as there are often many ways to solve a challenge, and what you think is the best way may not always be the case. I believe that challenges are best handled with active involvement from those affected as they can also represent new opportunities to strengthen the organisation.”
Steenslid points out that the seafood business is very volatile and subject to changes outside people’s control, due to factors from natural conditions to market conditions. This has forced the industry to be flexible and able to adapt quickly.
“This can be a source of problems, frustrations and challenges, but at the same time it also represents opportunities and excitement. I think once you are bitten by the seafood industry it can be difficult to leave it because it is so fascinating,” he says.
Norway’s seafood business is, like other sectors in the world, feeling the impact of digital disruption.
“Digital disruption is happening in more or less all aspects of modern life, and the Norwegian seafood industry is no exception as it affects the whole value chain from sea to plate. It is changing production methods, logistics systems and sales channels,” Steenslid says
“For the NSC, this has led to more focus on online trading of Norwegian seafood, and digital marketing is a must to reach out to millions of consumers worldwide every day.
Digital disruption will keep on changing the way we go about our lives and how we do business, and we have to take advantage of the opportunities that represents to keep up in a fast changing world.”
At his base in Singapore, Steenslid does not limit his appetite to Norwegian fare and never misses a chance to sample diverse Asian cuisines.
“I am way too fond of local food here in Singapore and the region to eat Norwegian seafood every day, but we have salmon at home at least once a week. I would say my favourite dishes are the more simple ones, like chicken rice or a piping hot bowl of noodles, and I really love Thai food such as pad thai and tom kha kai. Besides, traditional Thai flavours go very well with salmon, and I am very happy to see that more consumers also see this.”
When asked if he cooks at home, he says: “After moving to Singapore I don’t do much cooking, unfortunately. I rather enjoy being served delicious local food. Back in Norway I often cooked salmon because it is so easy and quick. A favourite of mine is oven baked, which can be made for just one or for the whole family just as easily. It also helps to keep all the flavours and nutrients in the fish.”
He adds that besides salmon, Norway also has the world’s best mackerel, often sold in Thailand as saba mackerel, which is fatty and juicy.
“After salmon, it is actually the most exported seafood from Norway to Thailand. So next time you go to a Japanese restaurant to have grilled saba mackerel, it is very likely to be a Norwegian one,” Steenslid says.
Jon Erik Steenslid
Norwegian Seafood Council
Southeast Asia regional director
Steenslid was appointed to the position in 2014. With an extensive backฌ
ground in the seafood industry, he had earlier served as a senior business
adviser and partner of the marine department at Segel AS Consultancy
Company and managing director of Emy Fish AS.
He graduated from Aalesund University College, in the Norwegian west
coast city of the same name, with a bachelor’s degree in export marketing
studies. The programme had an emphasis on the seafood industry.