Q&A: Maruha Nichiro on surimi's outlook
U.S. Alaska pollock surimi prices have leveled off after a sharp spike last year and corresponding drop this year. Whitefish supplies remain tight worldwide, constricting surimi supplies. But the poor economy has brought demand down, too. SeafoodSource talked to Hiroshi Tsukano, manager of Maruha Nichiro Seafoods' surimi division, about the outlook for the global surimi market.
Loew: Have sales volume and prices of your fish-paste products in Japan changed recently?
Tsukano: We have seen a severe price decrease, along with the plunge in the price of surimi, and pressure from retailers for lower prices. The sales price seems to be even lower than the level in the period before the surimi market started soaring. According to our interim statement as of 30 September, the sales amount of fish-paste products for Maruha Nichiro Foods was down 21 percent from that of the previous year. We expect the total supply quantity in Japan in 2009 to decrease by 100,000 metric tons, from 600,000 metric tons in 2008.
The statistics of household consumption, however, show signs of improvement. Spending on fish-paste products increased by 1.7 percent in August and 0.9 percent in September from the same period in the previous year, while overall spending on food has been decreasing by 2 to 3 percent each month.
Do you expect strong holiday demand?
Regarding surimi demand in advance of the New Year holiday, we expect no big change in general. However, there is less availability in higher grades such as SA and FA and a glut in standard or lower grades such as A and RA.
Fish-paste products have become popular in Europe. Is European surimi consumption rising?
Surimi imports among the 27 EU members from January to July is [up] 85.6 percent and 102.1 percent in quantity and unit price (in euros), respectively, [from] last year. The statistics show stable demand in the EU, if we consider the reduction in the global supply. Maruha Nichiro usually benefits by good demand from Europe. On the other hand, the comments from our salespeople suggest that the situation isn't as good as the statistics indicate after the financial turmoil.
The price of Alaska pollock surimi fell sharply in the spring but now seems to be leveling off. Do you expect surimi prices to continue to hold steady?
It is certain that surimi prices seem to be leveling off, in general. But we still feel the gap in the situation between the higher grades and others may have a negative impact on future market development. That makes us uneasy about predicting the future market, even though the fishery quota for the new season is anticipated to be as low as the 2009 season. So the industry is paying close attention the sales situation of fish-paste products.