Greece looks to China to lift bass, bream sales

Published on
September 9, 2014

Greece wants to tap growing Chinese demand for premium fish to drive sales for its sea bass and sea bream in Asia’s biggest economy.

A first-time Greek national pavilion at this year’s Seafood Expo Asia in Hong Kong is part of an effort to enter the premium hotel market here, said Yannis Pelekanakis, general manager of the Federation of Greek Maricultures. “It’s the first time we’re here as a federation…we have been looking at fish consumption in ethnic Chinese restaurants in North America and other markets and have seen how popular sea bass could be.”

Educating the market place will be a big challenge in China, where locally farmed perch are often marketed as “bass” in retail outlets and markets, selling at the lower end of the market for as little as RMB 15 (USD 2.44, EUR 1.91) per 500g. By contrast farm gate prices for farmed Greek sea bass have averaged EUR 4 (USD 5.15) to EUR 5 (USD 6.44) per kilo over the past year. 

“Yes it will be a challenge to explain the difference between our’s and the local or Japanese bass,” said Pelekanakis. Tapping the premium end of the market will be central to Greek efforts in opening the Chinese market, he said. The rewards may certainly be there if these efforts are successful — sea bass imported from the U.S. secured a per kilo price of USD 21.24 (EUR 16.48) in the Hong Kong market in 2013, putting it at the high end of imported seafood categories, according to data from the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. 

Greece accounts for half of global output of sea bass and sea bream but the country’s financial woes also took a toll on its aquaculture companies, who struggled to refinance and manage debt taken on in better times, before Europe’s single currency zone (of which Greece is part) hit stormy financial waters, which saw banks cut off lending to corporates.

Still, thanks to the country’s aquaculture boom its seafood exports have grown to surpass exports even of olive oil and now rank as Greece’s number two agricultural export in quantity.

Marketing the country’s bass as a premium product in China could boost the industry further, Pelekanakis said. He has had to stress the growing times of Greek sea bass (1.5 years to full maturity) to distinguish it from other farmed species in discussions with Chinese buyers, who tend to place a premium on wild rather than farmed seafood.

Among the firms exhibiting at the Asia Seafood Expo: Nireus Aquaculture SA claims to be the global leader in Mediterranean fish farming (it farms in Spain and Turkey as well as Greece) with a full value chain of hatcheries, feed farms and processing facilities guaranteeing “consistent and dependable supply of high quality fish at competitive prices year-round,” said Antonis Grammenos, commercial director.

Serving up samples of sea bass for visitors to the Hong Kong show, Selonda Aquaculture SA produces 20,000 tons of sea bass and sea bream per year and ships worldwide. Kefalaonia Fisheries and Andromeda Group were also among the Greek firms in Hong Kong. Another Greek firm at the show looking at sales in Asia: Plagton SA is looking at developing new species such as shrimp and octopus and is examining potential in algae production and organic production.

Pelekanakis is upbeat that an increasing awareness of health and of the healthy attributes of the Mediterranean diet could prove powerful persuaders of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese consumers. “We’ve had a lot of interest from potential buyers in Hong Kong,” he said.

A steep increase in Chinese consumption of olive oil and imported wines shows Chinese awareness of the Mediterranean diet is increasing. That factor was also a selling point at the recent Hong Kong show for a delegation from the southerly Calabria region of Italy. Three firms from the region selling tuna and anchovy-based artisanal food products were drawn to the China market by the popularity of Italian food and restaurants in mainland Chinese cities, explained Laura Luciano, head of public relations for the Canlabrian government’s pavilion at the fair.

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