Cheap pangasius from Vietnam challenging domestic products in China

Pangasius being fed in a pen
Pangasius raised in Vietnam is in a prime position as Chinese consumers look to save money | Photo courtesy of Sudhakar Bisen/Shutterstock
4 Min

Wariness among Chinese consumers amid a slowing economy has forced seafood importers in the country to focus on cheaper species, placing Vietnamese pangasius in a prime position to take advantage.

Cheaper in retail outlets than even domestically produced freshwater favorites like carp, pangasius has become the fish of choice for many consumers cooking at home, as well as for mass market dining chains.

The Yu Ni Zai Yi Qi restaurant outlet in Beijing, which competes nationally with a new wave of similar fish-focused informal dining chains, including the fast-expanding Tai Er chain, relies on pangasius as a menu staple. Another restaurant that quickly made pangasius a staple are quick-service seafood restaurants operated by 7 Fresh, with grilled fish meals featuring the species ranging from CNY 22.90 (USD 3.20, EUR 2.97) to CNY 26.90 (USD 3.76, EUR 3.49).

Frozen fillets of pangasius are also popular within China’s lucrative children’s food market because pangasius is a clean and soft whitefish that many parents bank on as a healthy choice for their kids, a staff member at the Shou Gang supermarket in Beijing told SeafoodSource.

Sales of both pangasius and tilapia, which is another domestic competitor, have risen in recent months due to China’s weakened economy.

Nevertheless, they remain competitive, and the rise of pangasius has negative implications for domestic producers of tilapia, who had been hoping to reduce their dependence on export markets by selling more domestically. 

Tilapia remains competitive price-wise with pangasius, but a surge in price earlier this year due to reduced production has threatened further price hikes that could turn seafood buyers in other directions. 

Statistics within a March 2024 USDA China Fishery Products report outline the battle between the two species. Though the report found Chinese imports of Vietnamese pangasius decreased from 228,000 metric tons (MT) in 2022 to 128,000 MT in 2023, that was still more than Chinese tilapia export totals, which amounted to 126,000 MT last year.

In a good sign for some domestic sellers, China’s seafood production for 2024 is expected to grow on “expanded aquaculture area and production efficiency.”

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