Thursday,15 March,2012 08:35:18
The International Boston Seafood Show is useful for so many reasons. It is a way to connect with current suppliers, find new suppliers, learn from the conference sessions, and of course, discover new items. For me, one of the best experiences of the show is to learn about seafood products, and learn what is happening in the various markets and in the industry in general. I learn just by asking questions from the experts at the booths.
As I walk the show floor, I chat with colleagues and buyers I have known for years. I ask them how the show is going, and have they seen anything new or learned anything special. Most say yes, and they tell their stories of high potential new items, or new suppliers they have discovered. It reminds me of window shoppers at the mall talking about the great deals they found at X or Y store. There are always a few who say no, I have not seen much new this year. I figure these people are coy and don’t want to tell me about the goodies they found, or they are blind. I have walked the seafood show every year for over two decades. I always find useful new products, and insights into the markets. I always learn about new issues, people, and companies that I never knew before. I learn about future trends and direction for the industry, or product categories. There is so much seafood knowledge and talent in one place during the seafood show, and most of these experts are just dying to tell their story. Here is just some of what I learned this year at the show.
Snow crab prices may be coming down a little this year. Alaska had a good year with heavier than expected production of 8oz up clusters, causing heavier inventories of large size crab. With high snow crab prices last year, production of deep water crab species picked up, such as angulatus from the Sea of Ohotsk, and japonicus from the Sea of Japan. The extra supply may help soften the market. One importer said 3 to 5 ounces angulatus can be had for under USD 3 per pound. Canadian supply is expected to be about the same as last year, and Russian export volume available to the U.S. market is expected to go up with the production ramping up in June. Plus the high prices for crab this year, slowed demand significantly. Global farmed Atlantic salmon production will be up 12 percent to 35 percent in 2012, depending on who is projecting. Farmed salmon should remain a bargain and a sales driver. Farmed shrimp production also looks good for 2012 and may foretell of lower shrimp prices.
I learned that gluten free is hot, and getting hotter. U.S. and global sea scallop production is expected to be flat this year. Scallop prices are expected to remain strong as Chinese buyers were active during the show at the booths of the major US and Canadian scallop producers, and touring scallop plants in New Bedford. Swai keeps getting easier to find at the show. Value added seafood now accounts for about 17% of sales at U.S supermarkets. Value added seafood keeps getting easier to find at the show. Chinese exporters and Chinese produced seafood are hard to avoid at the show. More Asian and European producers and exporters were at the show than ever. It seems they are concerned about flat or declining demand from Europe and are looking to sell more seafood into North American and South American markets.
All natural is hot and still getting hotter. Organic would be hot, and getting hotter, if it were legal in the U.S. Sustainability advances and traceability are more expected than requested now. The sustainability related conferences are still the most attended at the show. There are fears that higher fuel prices and increased global demand will keep most wild harvested seafood prices firm or moving up. While the feel is that the economy is improving, there is concern that high gas prices will start to impact consumer spending like it did in 2009. There is quiet concern in Alaska about slower growth rates in wild fish stocks, and not just some stocks but almost all fish stocks. With the exception of king crab, most fisheries seem to be harvesting smaller fish including herring, salmon, cod, pollock, and halibut.
NOAA is proud of the updated Fishwatch.org site. I liked the old one very much, but NOAA should be proud of the new site. It has accurate product photos of most species, and is more user friendly, with less technical jargon. The FishWatch site is packed with great info about the sustainability, or lack thereof, for about 85 U.S. seafood products. It is an excellent source of objective science on U.S. fisheries. What I learned is that NOAA is planning to add 6 farm raised species to the site within two months. Katie Semon, FishWatch Program Manager, also indicated they may be adding portals to other countries web pages about their major seafood products. One of those countries is Canada. Canada DFO has a pretty good site, sustainable-seafood.ca which highlights what Canada is doing about maintaining fisheries and has specific info on some species. DFO is also working on an update to their web site. They will have more species covered including aquaculture species. Both NOAA and DFO reps indicated that other countries they work with are also working on rolling out more user friendly, sustainability based web pages for their top seafood species. As much as I like all of the info available on a site like Monterey Bay Aquarium, government run web sites have more credibility with many seafood buyers and customers. After all, it is government that tracks stocks and manages fisheries and aquaculture policy.
That is just some of what I learned at the show, when some said there is not much new this year.