Chile customs workers’ strike ends, but salmon struggles continue

The port workers’ strike in Chile, which lasted a little more than a week and reportedly ended on Thursday, is just the latest in a series of problems depressing the Chilean salmon market and putting downward pressure on prices.

Fresh salmon shipments remained stuck at several ports while customs workers — members of the National Association of Customs Officers (ANFACH) — and the Chilean government battled over increasing staff and improving infrastructure. Trade group SalmonChile said the strike has resulted in more than USD 30 million (EUR 27.4 million) in losses for the industry and halted exports of around 11 metric tons of salmon, according to published reports.

The strike was not the only problem affecting Chilean salmon pricing and demand, however.

U.S. club store Costco’s switch from Chile to Norway salmon this spring – which the retailer said was to avoid excessive antibiotics administered to the fish – had already depressed prices. And Walmart’s new antibiotics policy may also signal that America’s largest retailer is shifting away from buying Chile salmon. Last week, Walmart directed all of its meat and seafood suppliers to restrict their use of antibiotics and published a list of voluntary guidelines regarding acceptable veterinary drug administration.

In April, salmon from Chile was priced around USD 4 (EUR 3.66) a pound wholesale for trimmed and de-headed 2-3 pound fillets, and prices have dropped to USD 3.85 (EUR 3.52) pound this week.

“We are getting a lot of offers on Chilean salmon; it’s a ‘name your price’ situation, a buyers’ market out there,” Rob McNutt, seafood buyer and category manager for salmon, halibut and rockfish for Victoria, B.C.-based distributor Tradex Foods. In lieu of Chilean product, many buyers have shifted purchasing to Canada, McNutt said.

In addition, strong projections for the Alaska salmon run this summer are expected to further depress the farmed salmon market. “That should send farmed prices down even lower. It gives people an opportunity to look at [wild] salmon again,” McNutt said.

McNutt expects to see wild sockeye prices retail at USD 9.99 (EUR 9.13) or lower this summer. “Any time you get that retail price below USD 9.99, you see that volume start to increase. It would take a bite out of the Norwegian and Chilean markets.”

Plus, McNutt and other buyers say suppliers are still holding on to large inventories of wild Alaska coho and sockeye from last season.

On the other hand, since Chilean salmon is such a value currently, more U.S. retailers should be running promotions. “Retail hasn’t lowered their price points and passed savings on to consumers to drive demand,” said a U.S.-based importer of farmed salmon from Chile. “We need a spark to drive sales — especially from the club stores. Then, everyone follows suit and demand picks up significantly.”


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