Chile to mount PR offensive in China

Published on
November 8, 2011

Editor’s note: SeafoodSource Contributing Editor Mark Godfrey attended last week’s China Fisheries & Seafood Expo in Qingdao. Here’s his third in a series of reports from the 16th annual event. 

With Chilean salmon industry recovering from a mauling at the hands of the infectious salmon anemia (ISA) virus, the country is gunning for a bigger share of one of the fastest-growing seafood markets — China.

Tasked with driving Chilean seafood exports to China, Gonzalo Matamala, commercial attaché at the Chilean embassy in Beijing, said in 2012 the Latin American nation will mount a PR offensive to raise awareness of Chilean product.

“Norway and Chile export the same kinds of volumes into China, but people only recognize Norwegian salmon. In many cases, supermarkets flag Chilean fish as Norwegian,” said Matamala. “This is because we haven’t had an effective PR presence, but this will change.” 

A “Pro Chile” branding campaign for seafood is already underway, as evidenced at last week’s China Seafood & Fisheries Expo in Qingdao, where an enormous, sleekly produced Chilean booth was one of the the most eye-catching of the foreign stands.

Chilean exporters and officials, said Matamala, are working hard with Chinese trade and supermarket representatives to educate them about Chilean product. Now that Chile has the ISA virus under control, “sanitary standards are better now too,” said Matamala who sees Chilean volumes into China rising by 10 percent this year and next. “We always compete with Norway on price but also now too on quality.”

Extra competition from Chile will be a challenge for Norwegian players in China, given ongoing pressure on prices here from extra Chilean volumes. Beijing seafood traders are reporting that salmon prices are down 20 percent in the past four months.

Christian Chramer, spokesman for the Norwegian Seafood Export Council, said fast-growing supply from Chile has pushed prices down in China and other markets from May to September by as much as 40 percent. “High prizes over a long period might have altered purchase pattern with our customers and increased volumes from Norway,” which have also clipped prices, he added.

Said Chramer, “It is important to stress that this is a global pattern not isolated to China. As a marketing organization for seafood from Norway, we are working hard to build preference and grow purchases and hope to see improved sales figures both for Norwegian exporters and our international partners in the near future.”

Chile has other ambitions in China aside from salmon. With China set to become the No. 1 seafood consumer in Asia by 2015, Chile is also keen to drive its high-value king crab exports to China, said Matamala. Key is increasing the value of Chilean exports China.

“It’s like wine, we don’t want just bulk sales,” he explained, pointing to the example of Chilean firm Panamerica, which has dispatched staff to China to meet with chefs and distributors on the prospects of adapting Chilean cod product to Chinese tastes.

Chile is keen to cut out the middle-man roll of China, typically a processing transit point for product headed to Japan and Korea, the top Asian markets for Chilean exporters.

Salmon and trout are No. 1 and No. 2 for Chile, which also ships abalone and cuttlefish and fishmeal to China. As with salmon, Chilean trout is reprocessed in China for the Japanese market but rarely flagged as Chilean.

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