Re-branding fish simply refers to the process of renaming fish species to make them sound more attractive and appetising to consumers, and therefore easier to sell. The re-branding of fish species is widespread thorough the world and is common in Britain, particularly in supermarkets which often believe that customers will not eat fish which are strange or unusual. Below are some of the most common and notable renaming and re-branding processes which have taken place.
Pollock Re-branded as ‘Colin’
In 2009 it was announced that Sainsubury’s Supermarket was rebranding “unpopular” pollock as ‘Colin’ (the French name for Hake). The bizarre re-brand was also accompanied by the fish being sold in new packaging created by designed Wayne Hemmingway. One of the reasons for the rebrand was that customers were apparently put off by the name of pollock and Sainsbury’s claimed that some customers were even embarrassed to ask for pollock. Despite Sainsbury’s encouraging consumers to eat “Colin and chips” the name pollock lives on.
Shark Species Renamed
While the shark species which are found around the UK are not widely eaten they are (or at least were) sold in fish and chip shops. However, these species are almost always re-branded under a different name. When deep-fried and served in a fish and chip shop smooth-hound is often called ‘Sweet William’, while other smaller shark species such as lesser-spotted dogfish, bull huss and spurdog are often called ‘Rock Salmon.’ The popularity of both sweet William and rock salmon appears to have declined rapidly in recent years and it is now rare to see this for sale in fish and chip shops.
Cornish Name Applied to Lesser-Known Flatfish Species and Spider Crabs
Plaice and Dover sole are premium flatfish that command the highest prices in supermarkets and restaurants but the lesser-known deep-water species of megrim and witch are also edible and considerably cheaper. However, anyone mentioning these species to consumers would be met with puzzled looks and so these species are often re-branded to make them more appealing to consumers. Megrim is often renamed as Cornish sole, while witch becomes Torbay sole. Clearly associating these species with the fishing communities of south-west England is seen as beneficial to convincing people to buy this species. It has also been suggested that the Cornish name could be used to make spider crabs more appealing. This species is found off the south west coast of England but is unpopular with British consumers and catches are exported to continental Europe where it is widely eaten. In early 2021 the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation suggested that spider crabs could be re-branded as Cornish king crab to make them easier to sell to British consumers.
The Many Names for Atlantic Wolffish
Atlantic wolffish has many different common names – sea cat, wolf eel, devil fish, sea wolf, catfish and a number of others. Due to the unusual and somewhat scary looks of this species it is rarely sold to the public as a full fish on wet fish counters. Instead, carefully prepared skinned and boned fillets are offered for sale. However, these are not usually sold as being wolffish fillets, and instead the name of woof, Scarborough woof or Scotch halibut is applied to this species when it is sold as food. Atlantic wolffish is now endangered, meaning it is rare to see it for sale either in fish and chip shops or in fishmongers.
Renaming of Deep Sea Fish
Relatively recently technological advances have led to deep-sea species (those which live at depths of 1000 metres and deeper) can now be caught on a commercial basis. This has led to new species arriving on the market. The problem for those looking to sell these fish is that many of the most commercially viable species had unappealing names such as slimehead and rat-tail. The answer was to simply rename them – slimehead became orange roughy (or deep sea perch) and rat-tail was renamed roundnose grenadier. These names have been proven to be much more appetising for consumer and has helped create a market for these species, although most consumers are completely unaware of the huge amount of damage that is done to delicate deep-sea environments by the trawlers which catch these species of fish.
Patagonian Toothfish Becomes Chilean Sea Bass
Patagonian Toothfish is a large predatory species of fish which lives in the colder waters of the South Atlantic, although it can also be found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It can weigh over 200lbs and plays in important part of the ecosystem of the waters in which it lives. However, this species is highly prized for the quality and taste of its flesh, with restaurants paying a small fortune for the opportunity to add this fish to their menus – prices of £100 per kilo have been reported. However, the Patagonian toothfish name is not the easiest to sell to consumers, and so the name Chilean sea bass is usually applied to this species when it is seen on the menu of a high-price restaurant. Indeed, the fish is briefly mentioned in the 1993 worldwide hit film Jurassic Park, with many people believing that this raised the awareness of this species amongst the general public and led to hugely increased demand (levels of legal and illegal fishing) for Patagonian toothfish.
Pilchards as Cornish sardines
Pilchards have an unenviable reputation as a small, cheap fish which was popular in the in Britain from the 19th century until the 1970s, when increasing availability and falling prices of foreign species such as tuna saw the popularity of pilchards plummet. With many consumers remembering pilchards as a staple of their childhood as an unappealing tinned fish meant that attempts to boost sales of this species failed, and retailers such as Marks & Spencer reporting disappointing sales when they have tried to sell this pilchards as a fresh fish. The answer to this was, of course, a re-brand/rename. Marks & Spencer stated that sales increased when pilchards were re-branded as Cornish sardines and consumers were reminded of the health benefits of eating oily fish. In 2014 The Independent reported that sales of this species had risen by 19% when its name was changed from pilchard to Cornish sardine, and high-end restaurants had begun putting this species back on the menu.
PETA and Sea Kittens
Of course there are other groups which attempt to gain an advantage from re-branding. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) continued their campaign against recreational angling by starting a (presumably tongue in cheek) campaign to have fish re-branded as ‘sea kittens’. This would have the result of people viewing fish differently and turning against angling. Indeed PETA’s website ask “who could possibly want to put a hook through a sea kitten?”
Read more about PETA and fishing here.
The re-branding of fish species is something which seems set to continue. Re-branding is driven by supermarkets and fishmongers which are attempting to move customers away from traditional, well-known food fish such as cod, haddock and plaice and increase the sales of less traditional species. The argument is that UK consumers are reluctant to try new fish species – especially if they have unusual or unappetising names – and therefore re-branding fish species is necessary to sell these types of fish. While supermarkets claim they are deliberately trying to get customers to eat alternative species to take the pressure off the most commercially exploited species (the big five) the cynical view would be that supermarkets are, in fact, attempting to create a market for cheaper, under-exploited species. Consumers will only be able to see through the re-branding of fish species if the general public develop a greater knowledge of fish species and begin questioning supermarket staff and fishmongers about specifically which species of fish is being sold. Most supermarkets do list the scientific names of fish meaning that an awareness of these will allow consumers to know exactly what species of fish they are buying.