UK seafood sales, trades slumped amid coronavirus chaos

Published on
July 20, 2021

The supply and demand of seafood in the U.K, market was significantly challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, according to provisional data from the value chain published by trade body Seafish.

According to the new analysis, last year’s supply of seafood for human consumption in the United Kingdom was valued at GBP 4.8 billion (USD 6.6 billion, EUR 5.6 billion), which was 11 percent less than in 2019, with decreases seen from all channels.

The majority of U.K. seafood was sourced from abroad, with 68 percent of the value coming from imports worth GBP 3.2 billion (USD 4.4 billion, EUR 3.7 billion). This was 7 percent less than the previous year. Also included within the import value was GBP 53 million (USD 72.3 million, EUR 61.3 million) worth of seafood landed in the United Kingdom by foreign vessels, which was down 28 percent. Iceland, China, Vietnam, Sweden, and Denmark were the leading sources of imported seafood, while tuna, cod, salmon, haddock, and shrimp were the main products in volume terms.

The United Kingdom supplied 32 percent or GBP 1.5 billion (USD 2.1 billion, EUR 1.7 billion) of its own seafood, some 19 percent less than in 2019. The majority of this supply, GBP 962 million (USD 1.3 billion, EUR 1.1 billion) was from aquaculture, with the remaining GBP 583 million (USD 795.5 million, EUR 674.3 million) accounted for by landings from U.K. vessels.

Seafish also confirmed last year’s seafood exports slipped 20 percent in value to GBP 1.6 billion (USD 2.2 billion, EUR 1.9 billion). This included GBP 208 million (USD 283.8 million, EUR 240.5 million) worth of landings made by U.K. vessels abroad, which was 7 percent lower than in 2019.

The main overseas markets for U.K. seafood products were France, the United States, Spain, Ireland, and the Netherlands. Mackerel, herring, blue whiting, crab, and nephrops were the country’s top export species.

In terms of consumption, U.K. consumers purchased GBP 6.8 billion (USD 9.3 billion, EUR 7.9 billion) worth of seafood last year, which was 15 percent lower than in 2019. While retail seafood sales increased 11 percent to a total value of GBP 4.3 billion (USD 5.9 billion, EUR 5 billion), thereby accounting for 62 percent of all sales, out-of-home sales fell 39 percent to GBP 2.6 billion (USD 3.6 billion, EUR 3 billion).

The analysis identified that within grocery channels, frozen fish and shellfish sales soared 20 percent to a value of GBP 1.1 billion (USD 1.5 billion, EUR 1.3 billion), ambient climbed 12 percent to GBP 600 million (USD 818.5 million, EUR 693.9 million), and chilled product sales rose 7 percent to GBP 2.5 billion (USD 3.4 billion, EUR 2.9 billion).

All of the channels in foodservice reported a decline in servings, including fish and chip shops, which suffered a 27 percent year-on-year decline in business; quick-service restaurants, which experienced a 38 percent drop; full-service restaurants, where business dipped by 44 percent; and pubs, which were hit with a 51 percent decline.

Overall, the U.K.’s GDP contracted by 9.9 percent in 2020, and the shrinkage continued in Q1 2021, with a 1.6 percent decline. Quilter Investors Portfolio Manager Hitesh Patel said the U.K. had pointed to the “trifecta” of a public health crisis, economic shutdowns, and uncertainty surrounding Brexit that created an “annus horribilis” for the country. But Patel said his firm was optimistic for a rebound in the second half of 2021.

“However, 2020 is in the past and the U.K. arguably has a promising second half of the year ahead given the success of the vaccine rollout,” he told CNBC.

For the seafood industry, there are signs some of the positive impacts of the COVID-19 crisis – chief among them, that U.K. consumers ate much more seafood at home during the U.K.'s three separate lockdowns – may be here to stay. In a 1 July report, “Seafood in retail during COVID-19,” Seafish found overall seafood sales at retail remained elevated even as market the British moves back to pre-COVID-19 patterns.

For the U.K.’s foodservice industry, which was hit by a 52 percent drop in consumer visits in Q1 2021, the pain caused by the pandemic has been dire. But Seafish said a widespread shift to delivery, drivethrough, and click-and-collect services “will continue to be the key opportunities and main route to trade even as restrictions start to lift.”

“Meal deals and kits will remain a popular option as they allow customers to recreate the out-of-home experience in-home. And, utilising technology is key,” Seafish said in its “Seafood in Foodservice Q1 2021” report.

“Offering consumers several options, specifically delivery, will continue to be a key route to market and will remain so for some time. Delivery is developing faster than any other channel and can be leveraged by most businesses to ensure a faster recovery. Drive-through can also be considered as this, too. Currently, both are underrepresented in seafood visits out-of-home," Seafish said. "However, carry out/click and collect is outperforming the total market in part due to services available from quick-service restaurants and fish-and-chip shops as these channels were quick to adapt business models and had already developed takeaway and delivery services pre-pandemic. Keeping the gains of the delivery while offering a compelling and competitive offer after the reopening will be key to the markets recovery and grow.”

Photo courtesy of Andrew Harker/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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