French shrimp markets stuck in the past

Published on
June 10, 2015

Marketing consultant Marie Christine Monfort has been observing the shrimp retail market in France for over a decade, and finds that it is not keeping up with the times, particularly regarding where it is processed, sustainability certification and labeling country of origin.

“The market for shrimp has changed dramatically in the past four years under price pressure and the forces of competition, but it is surprising that it remains rooted in tradition with little apparent innovation,“ she said

Monfort has just released a new report, her third on shrimp, with a full analysis of the sector, and says that value is still almost entirely added in France, or at least in Europe.

“Tropical shrimps are imported raw HOSO, to be further processed in France, which raises two issues; producers of raw material do not enjoy the full benefit of their product, and processing at Western pay rates can make the product expensive,” she said.

“It is true that consumers prefer fresh items, and retailers like to deal with local suppliers, but what about mastering the entire process in Vietnam for example, exporting frozen, and selling chilled? I don't know if it has ever been tried,” she said.

In Europe, France is the second largest market for tropical shrimp, with an estimated value of more than EUR 700 million (USD 900 million) in 2014.

It is a traditional market, where the dominant product type, with a 55 percent market value share, is bulk sales of chilled HOSO products, cooked in France or Spain. These generally bear no brand, no logo and no company name, and the industry is resisting attempts by more sophisticated processors to change buyer habits.

“The most successful new value added item we found during the study were peeled shrimps in marinade,” said Monfort.

Chilled, cooked, packaged and branded products currently have just 21 percent of the market, with a share that has changed little since 2010, while non-branded frozen shrimp account for 19 percent.

“So far, consumers have not made the expected move to packaged, branded products, and more marketing effort will be required to encourage them if this segment is to gain ground,” she advised.

The main suppliers to France are Ecuador, India, Madagascar, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Colombia, all of whom have retained similar market shares over the past few years. Ecuador dominates the market for both small Penaeus vannamei, and also for organic shrimp. However, sales of organic shrimp appear to be in decline; in 2011 all retail stores offered at least one organic shrimp product, but in the 2015 survey, not all shops stocked this item.

Monfort explained that her report is designed to help shrimp players to understand the retail market, to position their company vis-à-vis their competitors and clients, and to locate their products in a market which is far from stable.

As well as an overview of the market and an outline of the distribution chain from producer to point of sale, it contains a database of 190 products, with full details of the retail outlet, product format, size, weight, price, placement, species, country of origin, brand and packaging.

Monfort was surprised to find that in an era when both industry and consumers are increasingly concerned about the ethics of shrimp producing, whether fished or farmed, only one product in the survey was found to offer social certification, and none offered environmental certification such as MSC or ASC, or mentions of compliance with fair trade practices.

“Shrimps are promoted purely on the base of price and convenience, and the lack of information about even the country of origin, which is not compulsory if the product is processed in France and sold in bulk, leaves consumers ignorant about the real source of their food.

“There is a huge potential market in France that offers opportunities for innovation and novelty products. We have consumers willing to pay for them but no products! And whilst the French are known for their preference for local products, it is time to treat them as grown-ups and to start adding country labels,” she stated.

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