Indo-Marine seeks direct link to shrimp buyers in Japan
Following up on a meeting at the Seafood and Technology Expo Osaka, SeafoodSource.com Contributing Editor Chris Loew interviewed Koichi Nakatani, managing director of Indo Marine Products Co. Ltd. at the company’s Osaka office.
Indo Marine Products Co., Ltd. (Indo Suisan in Japanese) is an outgrowth of existing business between VV Mineral, a mining company based in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and its Japanese importer, Australasian Minerals Japan Co., Ltd. (Koichi Nakatani, managing director). VV Mineral, based in Tisayanvilai, Tamil Nadu, is India’s largest manufacturer and exporter of garnet.
Tamil Nadu is also India’s largest shrimp-producing state. When the company group expanded into shrimp farming, it was natural to utilize the same connection, so Indo Marine Products Co., Ltd. was formed with Nakatani again acting as managing director and VV Mineral Director J. Chenthil Rajan as a director. Rajan is usually based in India, but came to Japan for the Seafood and Technology Expo.
The company is currently focused on two shrimp species: vannamei and flower (Penaeus semisulcatus). Nakatani said shrimp demand is usually lowest in Japan in February and August. This February, the price of vannemei went down rapidly, devaluing their stock in cold storage. “Whenever we sell a case, we lose money,” he said.
Flower shrimp were popular in Japan at a 20 percent premium over vannamei, as they are similar in their taste and springy texture to “kuruma-ebi," a popular local Japanese shrimp. All of the flower shrimp are wild caught, but large sizes have become scarce due to overfishing, so the spread with vannemei has grown to 30 to 40 percent. “They are extremely expensive. Customers cannot accept the price — it’s quite difficult,” Nakatani said.
Indo Marine doesn’t aim to become a huge exporter, but rather will play a niche role by selling directly to restaurants or contacting them through smaller distributors. “We want direct feedback from the end-users,” Nakatani said.
He plans to emphasize good taste and lack of chemical residues, as well as the willingness of the company to do custom specifications for as few as 10 cases per month, something larger companies can’t bother with. The current scale is small — it ships one 20-foot container containing 10 metric tons per month and hopes to double its shipments.
But there are also disadvantages to being small. All imports of shrimp are subjected to mandatory testing for chemical residues, at a cost of approximately USD 1,000 (EUR 931) per inspection, whether for multiple containers of a single 20-footer. The company recently imported a small lot of a few cases for a special order by air. Even that had to be tested at the cost of a thousand dollars and several days delay.
Nakatani said that though his company ranks above other Indian suppliers in its pond management and the modernity of its facility, India is still behind Vietnam and Thailand in the sanitation of processing facilities, with local power failures a frequent problem. “When the electricity goes off, the air curtains don’t work, the fans don’t work.” Though the company has backup power, these types of problems deter Indo-Marine from attempting the sort of extensive further processing that is done in those countries.
In Japan, processers specializing in peeling and deveining work are clustered in Oita, Gifu and Kagawa prefectures. They also apply monosodium glutamate, moisture binding agent and colorant, as vannemei lacks the bright orange color of tiger shrimp on cooking.
Indo-Marine’s contracted suppliers have not had troubles with running mortality syndrome (RMS), which is spreading in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, as ponds are drained, sanitized with chlorine, left to dry, and scraped before re-use. Juvenile shrimp are sourced from Thailand. He believes that poor pond sanitation contributes to the spread of RMS among less methodical producers.