Spain's unstoppable canned seafood sector

In the current Spanish economic crisis, there is a sector that continues growing and consolidating, refusing to acknowledge economic recessions: the canned seafood sector. Isabel, Calvo or Rianxeira are some of the brands of Spanish products that reach around the world and can be tasted in more than 100 countries.

Canned tuna is the star product with near 250,000 metric tons (MT) produced in Spain last year and exported to 120 countries on five continents. Why does this sector stand out so much? Juan Manuel Vieites, Secretary General of the National Association of Manufacturers of Canned Fish and Shellfish (Anfaco-Cecopesca) spoke to SeafoodSource in Anfaco-Cecopesca's headquarters located in Vigo, Galicia, about the challenges of the canned sector.

Spain stands out for being the world’s second largest producer and the largest in Europe, and in Spain, the epicenter of the industry is in Galicia, located to the Northwest of the Iberian Peninsula.

Vieites said the key to the sector’s success is international vocation and a clear roadmap stuck in their minds that they chase permanently across lines and strategic multiannual plans which they have been working with for years.

"The strategy pivots between two axis: the internationalization and the innovation," said Vieites. "In relation to internationalization it has a double side: the marketing of our products in third countries to export, and opening up to local markets, that is to be positioned in countries where we can obtain raw material.”

According to the latest information on Spanish canned seafood exports, in 2013 such exports reached a volume of 146,098 MT and a value of USD 934.4 million (EUR 691 million). It is necessary to highlight that almost half of the production of the sector (43 percent) was destined to export. Spain has in the EU its main market of exports of canned seafood, absorbing 89 percent of the total in volume and in value. With an apparent per-capita consumption of canned tuna in the EU of around 1.2 kg, the annual consumption of canned tuna in the EU is 694,000 MT.

Valuing the product has been the core idea of the industry. "We have to be conscious that in the world the captures are around 4.5 million tons and that´s all,” he said. "It is a healthy product, in a very fantastic condition and each time we have to increase their added value."

He explains the key points of the current situation of the seafood canned industry in Spain. "We have done the duties before the crisis. We have done it by means of a very carefully thought-out strategic plan of the sector for the period 2007-2013." And he points to modernization and restructuring as part of the process that has taken the sector to its current situation. "We haven’t risen exponentially as many sectors near to us did, and now they have to get back out (of our markets) again, because we had already (established ourselves there).

“Our sector comprised more than 400 companies to Spanish level in the year 1975. At this moment there are no more than 130 or 135 companies, where the big groups — the five or six first ones — have 70 percent of the market. Of course there is a certain concentration, but letting that other, the small ones, have their positioning in the market.” He is referring to small enterprises that are growing with specialties that sell well in the United States, for example, restaurants owned by celebrity Spanish-American chef Jose Andrés.

Vieites is confident in the companies that shape the fabric of the Spanish canned seafood sector sector. "They are competitive companies, a few that are betting on the future, a few companies that are in a sector they believe in."



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