Creative flavors helping tap potential of processed seafood in Asia-Pacific region
Flavors and functionality may be key to pushing sales of processed seafood in Asia, a region more associated with consumption of fresh product.
Sales of seafood products are inching up across the huge Asia-Pacific region, thanks to an appeal to ageing societies in key markets like Japan, and due to a new emphasis on innovative flavors and packaging, according to research by market research consultancy Euromonitor.
Overall growth in processed seafood sales looks relatively tame over the coming years, with Euromonitor projecting a 1.6 percent year-on-year rise in 2018-2019 (in value terms). That number stays relatively flat in 2019-2020 at a 1.8 percent increase and ticks slightly up to 1.9 percent in 2020-2021.
However, new entrants into the marketplace are distinguishing themselves through innovative packaging and flavoring, according to Mandy Chan, an analyst in Euromonitor’s Hong Kong office. Chan pointed to the Dong Won brand in South Korea and its easy-to-open cans of tuna in oil, and its “Delcube” plastic boxes of cubes with a fork supplied, both particularly successful innovations. Chan also pointed to the popularity of seafood pouches, particularly in Japan, where pouches with tuna flakes for easy use in salads have caught on.
Flavor innovations have similarly stood out in the processed food market. Fish dumplings in Hong Kong, for instance, feature cheese and wasabi flavors. Chan also pointed out a product in Malaysia featuring fish balls with durian flavours. Likewise, a Dong Wan “light” tuna snack with traditional Korean flavors has been selling well in that country, according to Chan.
Localization of products appears to be essential to the success of processed seafood launched in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Chan. Strong flavors are proving winners in the Asian Pacific processed seafood market in Singapore, with a “fire ho”’ chili-flavored tuna and a “ready-to-eat” chili crab both featuring on Euromonitor’s research radar, alongside an extra-spicy canned sardine product under the ABC brand portfolio in Indonesia.
The Asia-Pacific market for processed seafood will total 4.2 million tons in 2018, worth USD 3.4 billion (EUR 2.9 billion). The sector will grow by 1.4 percent in value terms between 2017 and 2018, according to Chan. Her office defines processed seafood as shelf-stable (heat treated for non-refrigerated preservation), chilled, and frozen packaged product.
In Japan, which accounted for 48 percent of the total processed seafood sales in the Asia-Pacific region in 2017 – ahead of China at 24 percent and South Korea at 10 percent – demographic and societal changes are key drivers for processed seafood sales. Processed seafood accounts for a massive 52 percent of all Japanese seafood sales, according to Euromonitor research. That contrasts significantly with countries such as China and Vietnam, where processed product amounts to only two percent of seafood sales.
“Japan’s historical embrace of surimi has put it in top position, while other drivers include the increased prominence of women in the Japanese workforce as well as the disappearance of traditional wet markets,” Chan said.
And while processed accounted for 10 percent of seafood sales in South Korea, it was a mere one percent of Taiwan’s total sales in 2017, according to Euromonitor research. The relative abundance of wet markets in China and Southeast Asia is limiting the rise of processed product in those markets, compared to Japan, where wet markets are vanishing.
“Shelf-stable products accounts for the bulk of sales in developing markets like Indonesia and Malaysia, whereas the use of seafood for traditional dining formats like hot-pot means frozen is the key processed format in China,” Chan said.
Furthermore, in large-population markets like India, the wide popularity of processed meat products continues to limit the potential of seafood. Processed meat accounts for 80 percent market share (of processed meat and seafood) in China, compared to a 20 percent share for seafood. Meat accounts for 89 percent of the processed protein market in India, meaning processed seafood accounts for 11 roughly the remaining 11percent. But the figure in Thailand is 56 percent seafood versus 44 percent meat, according to Euromonitor data.
Appeals to healthy eating are proving very successful in the marketing processed seafood throughout Asia. Reduced-salt fish cakes and low-sodium “healthy” tuna are selling well in Japan, according to Chan’s research. Likewise, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are known to reduce inflammation in the body, have become a major marketing claim in an ageing Japanese market.
In order to gain an edge, those producing and selling processed seafood must continue to innovate, as processed seafood with a creative twist is finding a place in new food applications across the Asian market. For instance, Chan referenced products such as seafood-based energy bars with DHA and EPA (amino acids), which are a surprise hit in Japan, and giant grouper and mullet fish convenience meals in Taiwan. Packaged, precooked salmon served with stir-fried rice is also rapidly catching on in Japan.