UK firms see 10 percent annual growth in China crab sales

Published on
November 19, 2013

U.K. fishery firms are replacing shipments of whitefish to China with higher-value shellfish shipments here.

Half of the dozen U.K. companies pursuing sales in China at the recent Dalian seafood expo are secondary processors while another half are selling to Chinese F&B and wholesaler clients, explained Jim McConville of Scottish firm Fresh Catch.

An established pelagic brand back in the U.K., Fresh Catch switched focus to shellfish in response to Chinese demand. “We were getting asked if we do shellfish, so we’ve gotten more into shellfish,” McConville told Seafoodsource. His firm previously shipped whiting, among other species, to Chinese processors.

Fresh Catch is finding strong demand in China for langoustine and scallops as well as lobsters. “We’re really only starting,” stressed company marketing chief McConville. He sees demand for imported U.K. crab here rising at 10 percent a year and Fresh Catch targeted sales of several hundred tons of crab here per year.

China’s willingness to pay premium prices is sometimes exaggerated, according to McConville. “They’re not paying premium prices.” But there’s an ability here to buy in large volumes compared to other markets like Southeast Asia, where Fresh Catch also sells.

Patience appears to be the watchword of another key Scottish seafood player in tackling China sales. “We’re trying to understand the logistics through to the customer first in China,” explained Roy Cunningham, managing director of Macduff Shellfish, operator of Europe’s largest scallop fleet. His firm is prepared to spend several years cultivating the right partners here. “China is a young market, we expect in 20 years’ time it’ll be a significant market for us, if we do things correctly and find the right partners.”

In the meantime, Macduff is educating the local market about its products, including langoustine, brown crab and scallops. A workshop in Scottish white scallops for chefs at the Shangri La Hotel in Dalian this month went well. “Our scallops are very, very natural and dry…they said ‘we have to have these!’”

Cunningham notes that Chinese buyers are becoming more sophisticated. “We’ve noticed the knowledge of products and knowledge of pricing among the Chinese buyers improves each year,” explained Beaton.

Shellfish sales are set to replace a lower capacity to supply China’s whitefish needs, due to a shrinking UK wild catch. There is “little or no whitefish” being supplied to China from Scotland, claims McConville, pointing to the importance of whitefish processing in several U.K. towns. Fresh Catch, which has an office in Qingdao, has been a major exporter of whiting to Chinese secondary processors.

Other British seafood suppliers have looked to China to take up the slack from a weaker European market. “The EU is our number one market for crab but we want to spread the risk,” explained Tony Horner, CEO of Ideal Foods, which ships crab, whelk and salmon heads to China. Chinese buyers are “interested in everything, really” says Horner, who’s charging GBP 25 (USD 40.32, EUR 1.19) per kilo to GBP 35 (USD 56.44, EUR 41.69) per kilo of salmon belly in China.

Horner sees an ongoing rise in U.K. seafood consumption that he believes has been helped by promotion of seafood counters by retailers. TV cooking shows have also helped. Chinese demand is different from U.K. in that “products have to be dressed and prepared for the U.K. market, it’s a labor intensive operation.”

China meanwhile looms large for Scottish officials who have promised that Scotland’s fish-farming industry will expand production to 210,000 metric tons (MT) a year by 2020, to help meet Chinese demand for fresh and smoked salmon. Hitting the goal will mean increasing production by 60,000 MT, or 50 percent, by 2020.

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