Sanctions on Russian seafood hitting some foodservice operations harder than others

A man cutting into a plate of fish and chips.

International bans on seafood from Russia – including one imposed on imports to the U.S. by U.S. President Joe Biden and similar tariffs by the United Kingdom – are having a mixed impact on foodservice operators and distributors, with some faring better than others.

The impacts boil down to how much seafood a business typically bought from Russia in the past. Unlike some foodservice distributors and operators that rely on Russian pollock, crab, and other seafood, one major North American foodservice distributor said that Russian seafood sanctions will have minimal impact on its business.

Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A.-based Gordon Food Service, which boasted USD 16 billion (EUR 14.6 billion) in peak revenue in 2021, has “very little direct sourcing from Russia,” Gordon Corporate Liaison Mark Schurman told SeafoodSource.

Gordon services foodservice operators in the Midwest, Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest regions of the U.S., and coast-to-coast in Canada. It also operates more than 170 Gordon Food Service Store locations in the U.S.

Schurman said the company sourced some crab from Russia, but the distributor was able to replace Russian crab with new sources earlier this month. For competitive reasons, Schurman declined to reveal the new suppliers.

Schurman did not say whether Gordon would return to buying Russian crab after the sanctions are lifted.

"We anticipate this will be the case for the foreseeable future and are planning accordingly,” he said.

Other businesses haven't fared so well. Other foodservice and retail buyers in the United States, the U.K., and many other countries are seeing severe impacts as supplies tighten and prices rise.

The U.K.’s National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF), which represents the nation’s fish and chip industry, said that up to half the country’s 10,500 operators may have to shut or convert into chicken or kebab takeaway restaurants.

“The cost of fish is the highest it’s ever been – and this is all before the effects of sanctions on the Russian fish, which constitute half of our cod and haddock,” NFFF President Andrew Crook told South China Morning Post.

NFFF is seeking assistance from the U.K. government to offset some of the impacts of the sanctions.

“We want to put pressure on the Russian regime, because what is going on in the Ukraine is awful,” Crook said. "But sanctions might just take our industry with it.” Crook said. 

Japan's sushi restaurants and seafood importers are also “scrambling for crab” after Russian imports came to a halt as the world’s airlines avoid the country, according to a report from NikkeiAsia.

As buyers around the world hunt for alternative suppliers of crab and fish, prices on many seafood species are expected to rise.

“Increasing demand coupled with rising input costs like fuel and labor will certainly affect pricing in select categories of seafood,” Schurman said. "We are monitoring the situation closely and will continue to do so, making proactive adjustments as needed. As we have done since the start of the pandemic, we’re remaining flexible, resilient, and are focused on meeting our customers' needs.”

Gordon “will continue to work with our suppliers to explore options, and with our customers to share what we learn. As needed, we’ll help them consider alternatives including other suppliers [or] different menu options.” Schurman said.

Representatives for Sysco, US Foods, and Performance Food Group did not respond to SeafoodSource’s requests for comment.  

Photo courtesy of Alena Veasey/Shutterstock


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