Pollock surimi price gap narrows

Published on
September 20, 2010

Mid- and low-grade Alaska pollock surimi blocks for the B season, which runs from early July through early October, are priced about 10 percent higher than in the A season that ended in March.

The Japanese newspaper Nikkei Keizai Shimbun reported a cost-and-freight price to Japanese ports of JPY 280 to 330 per kilogram (USD 3.29 to 3.80, EUR 2.50 to 2.94). That’s about JPY 30 higher for shore-processed middle and lower grades, with processed-at-sea higher grades fetching JPY 485 to 525 (USD 5.70 to 6.17, EUR 4.33 to 4.68). Last year, the price gap between lower and higher grades increased, but now it’s narrowing a bit.

Strong demand for lower grades is reportedly due to a major European surimi seafood manufacturer switching from higher grade to lower grade surimi.

Asian demand remains steady, including from South Korea and China. Stock in storage, or transit, is fairly low for lower and middle grades, so the sense is that supplies are tight. Japanese importers will have to negotiate with processors to pass on the price increase, which may not be easy in a deflationary environment. Last year, prices declined during the B season due to the poor economy.

Japanese demand for higher grade surimi typically increases in the fall for production of fancy fishcake products consumed during the New Year holidays. However, this year manufacturers are placing less emphasis on higher grades in their product mix, due the large spread that had developed between higher and lower grades of surimi. SA and FA grades had less availability, while there was a glut in standard or lower grades such as A and RA. Grades are determined by gel strength, moisture content and whiteness.

The Suisan Times quoted sources in Seattle as saying that as there isn’t much price movement in the upper grades, more emphasis will be put on fillet production. In the wake of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) outbreaks and more interest in healthy foods, demand for fish fillets has increased in Western Europe, while exports to Eastern Europe and Russia have suffered from the financial difficulties of some importers.

Alaska pollock also benefits from the European market’s demand for Marine Stewardship Council certified-sustainable products and relatively high euro against the dollar. In the United States, however, farmed tilapia continues to make inroads into the fillet market. China is competing fiercely with Taiwan in the whole tilapia market, and the Taiwanese Fisheries Agency this summer called for the nation’s tilapia farms to increase exports of tilapia fillets, which are higher priced, instead of producing whole fish.

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Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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