Cracking Europe’s ‘highly complex’ market

Published on
October 18, 2010

As wild fish stocks decline or remain static and the world population increases, it is widely accepted that more of our seafood will be supplied by aquaculture. This may sound like a simple switchover, but it’s not quite so straightforward. For a start, there are a lot of misperceptions associated with fish farming, and consumers often disliking change.

At the Aquaculture Europe 2010 conference in Porto, Portugal, this month, Philippe Paquotte of the European Commission Markets and Trade section examined this subject in a talk that looked at how farmed seafood might correspond to trends among European consumers.

“The EU market and its consumers are highly complex,” he advised.

According to Paquotte, at EUR 55 billion, the EU is the world’s most valuable seafood market. It represents 12 percent of worldwide seafood consumption but only 5 percent of seafood production, making it by far the No. 1 importer at 9 million metric tons annually, which is twice as much as the United States or Japan.

“This situation gives rise to a huge and growing market potential for aquaculture products, but the industry should identify and take into account consumer trends to ensure profitable outlets for products,” he said.

Paquotte explained that a common mistake was often made in assuming that the EU market was homogeneous, when the reality is that it’s disparate.

“Firstly, the five largest markets — Spain, France, Italy, the UK and Germany — account for two-thirds of all EU seafood consumed. Secondly, the annual per-capita consumption ranges from 4.5 kilograms in Bulgaria to 65 kilograms in Portugal, with an average of 27 kilograms,” he said. “Consumers eat mostly carp in Hungary, sea bass in Italy, sea bream in Spain, salmon in Germany and the UK, pangasius in Poland and a combination of all these species in France.”

Paquotte noted that perception was of great importance in persuading consumers to purchase farmed seafood and explained that studies show significant differences between countries.

“Generally speaking, farmed has an excellent image in terms of nutritional content, freshness, year-round availability and price, but fish farmers should not forget that aquaculture is expected to make fresh fish consumption more affordable,” said Paquotte. “It is also perceived in some member states (Portugal, Greece, Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands) as being less safe than wild fish, which is all the more negative as health is a major reason why people eat fish. In Germany, and the Czech Republic, where seafood consumption is far below the EU average, consumers prefer farmed fish.”

European markets are generally flexible and receptive to the arrival of new species such as pangasius and Nile perch, but marketers need to take countries’ preferences for fresh, frozen or value-added products into account.

“The fastest growing segment throughout the EU is chilled delicatessen, which offers opportunities for added-value products from aquaculture. These combine convenience and short shelf life, making them appear like fresh products, but call for greater expertise in food processing and packaging technology,” said Paquotte.

He warned that competition with imported products from countries with cheaper labor should not be underestimated and suggested that markets and the role of the whole value chain be more carefully taken into account when planning a new aquaculture venture.

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