Irish seafood making waves

A number of Irish companies are now eyeing the export potential in the €20bn seafood market in China, which accounts for one-quarter of the world’s consumption.

Growing incomes and increased urbanisation have helped fuel a massive growth in demand for imported seafood in China, which will need an extra 16m million tonnes by 2020 to meet demand, according to the United Nations.

Over 25,000 visitors from more than 100 countries attended a recent Seafood and Fisheries Expo in Qingdao. Ireland’s stand, organised by Bord Bia, included Irish seafood companies, keen to further develop business opportunities with China.

Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister Simon Coveney, who officially opened the Irish pavilion, said the strong Irish representation from both the pelagic and shellfish sectors in Qingdao demonstrated the commitment of both industry and Government to deepen ties and strengthen relationships with Chinese customers.

Mr Coveney, who met with Chinese vice minister Niu Dun, who has responsibility for fisheries, said Ireland has some of the finest seafood in the world, with a superior offering that is sustainably harvested from the pure, clean waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

“China continues to be a growing market for Irish seafood, with exports increasing by over 300% since 2011 to reach 18m in 2013. This strong trend in Irish exports to the region is continuing in 2014 with sales for the first six months up 56%, compared to the same period last year,” he said.

Bord Bia chief Aidan Cotter said the strong and sustained growth in exports in recent years demonstrates the continued success of Ireland’s leading shellfish processors in penetrating this valuable market.

Exports of shellfish to China, for example, increased in value by over 200% between 2012 and 2013, while exports to Hong Kong increased by 117% during the same period.

“Bord Bia has ambitious plans to further grow the share of Irish seafood into China and has a number of programmes in place to assist Irish seafood processors in identifying, profiling and targeting new customers that are willing to pay a premium for quality seafood from Ireland,” he said.

Through its trade development programme, Bord Bia has successfully encouraged high-end retail and foodservice Chinese customers to visit Ireland to meet with Irish seafood processors on a one-to-one basis.

These itineraries have been very effective in generating new business for the sector, providing Irish companies with an excellent opportunity to showcase their processing facilities.

They also allow customers to see first-hand the world-class environment in which Irish seafood is produced. These visits can provide a guarantee to Chinese customers on traceability, sustainability and food safety, all key issues of growing concern to the Chinese consumer.

As part of the Bord Bia trade mission, Bord Iascaigh Mhara accompanied 12 seafood companies to promote Irish product to key buyers at the China Seafood Expo in Quigdao.

In 2013, China’s seafood imports reached €6.8bn, an increase of nearly 10% on the previous year.

With consumption of seafood currently recorded at 33 kilos per capita, BIM says there is huge potential for the Irish seafood sector in this market.

During the last three years, Bord Bia has welcomed more than 25 Asian customers to Ireland on customised itineraries. Many of these visits have delivered new business for Irish seafood processors.

In March 2015, as part of its marketplace International event, it will host an additional 17 Asian customers on a visit to Ireland.

It has set a target of securing €7m worth of new business for the seafood sector arising from this event. In September 2013, over €4m worth of new business was secured with a range of Asian seafood customers who travelled to Ireland to attend Bord Bia’s Global Sustainability Conference.

Bord Bia has worked closely with the Irish industry to assist with the launch of boarfish into the Chinese market. Benefitting from a very substantial quota, it has undertaken trade research and promotions in the Chinese market to identify customers for this new species and to educate the trade and consumers on boarfish and its unique selling points.

Sales are slowly building in the supermarket, online and snack food sectors, and to date, over 250 tonnes have been exported to China. This is expected to increase significantly in 2015 as momentum grows and awareness builds in the market.

Bord Iascaigh Mhara has worked closely with industry to trial this substantial raw material for human consumption. The results were extremely positive and confirmed the fish has a firm texture and taste similar to flat fish such as plaice or sole. It also has the added benefit of being high in heart healthy Omega 3.

To enable effective processing of boarfish, BIM has invested over €600,000 in developing bespoke processing technology to allow the production of headed and gutted and minced product formats. This new technology will produce product formats that will demand a higher value on the Chinese market.

Donal Buckley, BIM’s director of business development and innovation, said while China is the fastest growing market for Irish seafood, the challenge is to continually seek out profitable niches where Irish seafood can be differentiated from larger American and Asian competitors. The new boarfish formats and high-end crab products are developed specifically for Chinese tastes.


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