Trident-Osabe pollock plant joint venture starts operation

Published on
April 16, 2019

A new processing plant operated as a joint-venture between Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.-based Trident Seafoods and Kesennuma, Japan-based Osabe Foods began production of pollock fillets for the Japanese market last month. 

The 2,380-square-meter plant in Tome, Miyagi Prefecture, was built on the site of a former clothing factory. Construction of the steel-frame building was begun in November 2018. Including the production lines and refrigeration, the cost was about JPY 1.5 billion (USD 13.3 million, EUR 11.8 million). Trident and Osabe Foods have set a production target of 400 metric tons (MT) and a sales target of JPY 2.3 billion (USD 20.5 million, EUR 18.1 million) from the plant.

Pollock from Alaska will be imported via the port of Sendai. Tome is about 20 kilometers inland, and was chosen as the location of the plant in part for its stable labor supply.

The plant will be focused on the production of single-frozen pollock fillets. Trident is trying to differentiate its products from Russian pollock, which may be defrosted and processed in China and then refrozen. However, Japan is not the major market for such products. Pollock fillets are not widely consumed in Japan, though pollock surimi blocks are imported in large quantities. Pacific cod is more popular. 

Chinese trade data for 2016-2018 from China Customs, via the Food and Agriculture Organization, shows imports of Russian frozen whole pollock ranging between about 250,000 to 370,000 (MT), representing the vast majority of the product, with imports from the U.S.A. and Japan very minor. The destination for the resulting frozen fillets appears to be mainly Germany, Poland, and France.

China represented the lion’s share of Germany’s pollock fillet imports at a little below 40 MT, versus around 20 MT from the United States. Product imported directly from Russia is steadily growing in this market, from around 5 MT in 2016 to around 30 MT in 2018. This is likely due to Russia’s acquisition of Marine Stewardship Council certification for the Sea of Okhotsk pollock fishery. Russia is also investing in vessels and plants to increase domestic fillet production and reduce the percentage of the catch that goes to the headed and gutted (H&G) form used by Chinese reprocessors.

The plant has two production lines – one for breaded products and the other for un-breaded. The un-breaded line is turning out a pollock product called “Salad Fish” that is formed, cooked, and vacuum-packed with seasoning, for example, garlic pepper. It is to be sold through convenience stores.

The product is a good fit for the current market demand in Japan, especially as Osabe Foods enjoys a good reputation in Japan for breaded products. Younger Japanese are shifting their preference in seafood to boneless fish with flavors that mask fishiness. And with Japan’s aging population and with fewer Japanese marrying and having children, ready-to-cook, or ready-to-eat items are becoming more popular. Additionally, more households are turning to “home meal replacement,” a slightly different category than traditional take-out. These are more like the foods of a deli section in a U.S. supermarket, but include lunchbox type “bento” meals and other ready-to-eat foods often sold in convenience stores in Japan. 

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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