Chile’s salmon exports surpassed USD 5 billion in value in 2021

Published on
February 25, 2022
A Chilean salmon farm.

Chilean shipments of salmon and trout totaled USD 5.18 billion (EUR 4.56 billion) in 2021 thanks to steady increases in demand throughout the year

Las year, Chile saw a progressive recovery in salmon exports, resulting in an 18.2 percent year-over-year value increase from 2020. The recovery came despite a 2.6 percent year-over-year decrease in export value Q1 2021, helped by increases of 11.6 percent and 33.4 percent in Q2 and Q3, respectively. Salmon and trout exports totaled USD 1.55 billion (EUR 1.36 billion) in the fourth quarter of 2021, up 37.5 percent from same quarter of the previous year, according to the Chilean Salmon Council's latest “Quarterly Salmon Exports Report." The council includes AquaChile, Australis, Cermaq, Mowi, and Salmones Aysén – five companies that together represent more than half of Chile’s salmon production. The report is based on information from Chile’s Central Bank and the National Customs Service.

“The results of 2021 confirm the consolidation of the recovery in Chilean salmon exports to the world after a very complex 2020 for everyone, where salmon farming, whose main sales channel is restaurants and hotels, was also affected,” Chilean Salmon Council Executive Director Joanna Davidovich said. “Thanks to the protocols implemented by the companies and the responsibility of the workers, we were able to continue operating during the pandemic and the recovery showed the external markets’ solid demand for salmon, with 2021 closing with significant growth and levels higher to those registered before COVID.”

According to customs numbers presented by the Salmon Council, total salmon exports decreased 71. percent by volume in 2021, lowering to 723,698 metric tons (MT) from the 779,044 MT exported in 2020. The average price of those exports varied greatly, from a high of USD 8.40 (EUR 7.40) per kilogram in the third quarter of 2021 to a low of USD 4.90 (EUR 4.30) per kilogram in the fourth quarter of 2020. High demand in 2021 meant that the average price received was 27 percent higher than the previous year.

The top destination markets for Chilean salmon in 2021 were the United States, which received 44 percent of total Chilean exports; Japan, which received 19.9 percent; Brazil, taking 12.9 percent; Russia, with 6 percent; and Mexico at 3 percent. The five countries accounted for over 85 percent of Chile’s salmon exports. The recovery in demand for Chilean salmon was led by the United States and Brazil, destinations where exports increased by 33.7 percent and 63.5 percent, respectively.

China, on the other hand, expressed lower demand for Chilean salmon exports, a decrease that began at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, China received 5.3 percent of Chilean salmon shipments, but that number decreased to 3.1 percent in 2020 to 2 percent in 2021. As a result, China lost its status as one of the top five markets for Chilean salmon.

SalmonChile President Arturo Clément previously said he expected China to soon become one of the world's biggest salmon markets, and that Chile is well-positioned for that eventuality.

“Once the COVID-19 situation begins to normalize, China will resume the growth it had before the pandemic. In the two years prior to the health emergency, China's growth was impressive and, as a result of the restrictions that exist today, it has been complex to develop that market, but I believe that it has significant potential,” he said last year.

Toward the end of 2020, SalmonChile launched a four-month digital marketing campaign to regain the confidence of Chinese consumers. The Chinese government had restricted imports of salmon and other seafood in the wake of rumors that a spike of COVID-19 in Beijing was linked to imported salmon. In response, Chilean authorities took steps to calm these unfounded fears.

In the meantime, the greater export dynamism in rest of the world “helped to boost economic activity and employment," Davidovich said.

"Salmon farming has been an engine of development and opportunities, generating a virtuous circle of enterprises, suppliers and regional development, mainly in the southern macro-zone," she said.

Salmon ranked second in export value in 2021 after Chile’s cash cow, copper, and above cherries at USD 1.8 billion (EUR 1.6 billion), and bottled wine at USD 1.6 billion (EUR 1.4 billion). The relative importance of salmon in Chilean exports has practically doubled in the last decade, expanding from 6.9 percent of non-copper goods exports in 2010 to 12.5 percent in 2021, growing at an annual average of 8.8 percent. In total, salmon shipments represented 5.5 percent of all goods exported from Chile and 48 percent of its food exports.

“We hope that there will be no greater restrictions due to COVID after the omicron outbreak and that the opening of hotels and restaurants can continue, which, added to the growth of new distribution channels such as online and retail sales, allow us to maintain healthy projections for salmon farming for this year,” Davidovich said.

Photo courtesy of the Chilean Salmon Council. 

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