Ecuador, Indonesia finding windows of opportunity in India-dominated US shrimp market

A pile of cooked shrimp on ice

India has come to dominate the U.S. shrimp market, but other countries are carving out niches by focusing on narrow product specifications or in-demand types of shrimp, a Shrimp Insights report has revealed.

In 2021, India remained the largest shrimp supplier to the U.S. by far, with a massive advantage in peeled and other value-added products, the Netherlands-based consultancy found. Peeled shrimp is the most-favored product in the U.S., with imports from the category jumping from 305,783 MT in 2019 to 416,433 MT in 2021, making up two-thirds of the total increase of U.S. shrimp imports over that period, according to Shrimp Insights. India took the lion’s share of those exports, shipping 235,943 MT of product, accounting for 57 percent of the U.S.’s total imports, with Ecuador coming in a distant second at 74,131 MT and Indonesia at 52,408 MT.

Shell-on shrimp products are the second-largest category of U.S. imports, with total volume imported increasing from 244,540 MT in 2019 to 275,002 MT in 2021. Data provided from U.S. federal agency NOAA regarding shell-on shrimp imports shows Ecuador posted the healthiest growth in the segment, becoming the largest supplier of shell-on products. That growth helped propel Ecuador to take over the second spot in overall shrimp exports to the U.S., replacing Indonesia. NOAA does not break down sizes for peeled shrimp imports, but it does for shell-on products.

Ecuador more than doubled its exports of shell-on products to 101,490 MT in 2021, representing 37 percent of total U.S. imports of the category, up from its 21 percent share in 2019. In comparison, India’s share of total U.S. imports of shell-on shrimp fell to 22 percent in 2021 from 35 percent in 2019, falling to third place behind Indonesia.

According to figures from Ecuador’s National Chamber of Aquaculture (CNA), at 22 percent of Ecuador's total exports, the U.S. was the country’s third-largest market for shrimp in 2021, totaling 184,158 MT and bringing in USD 1.2 billion (EUR 1.1 billion). That total is an increase from the U.S. accounting for just 17 percent of Ecuador's total shrimp exports the previous year. Ecuador sent 46 percent of its production by volume, or 390,089 MT, to China, bringing in USD 2.3 billion (EUR 2.1 billion), down from 53 percent in 2020. The European Union ranked second in Ecuadorian shrimp exports by volume with 190,509 MT, bringing in USD 1.16 billion (EUR 1.1 billion) and representing 23 percent of Ecuador's total shrimp exports, inching up slightly from 22 percent in 2020.

Prior to the pandemic, Ecuador’s shrimp industry had mainly been oriented around the foodservice segment, with a heavy focus on exports to China, but the country's National Chamber of Aquaculture (CNA) worked to reinvent and redesign the country's seafood industry. During the pandemic, Ecuador was hit with multiple bans on its companies' shrimp in China after the Asian country claimed it found potential instances of COVID-19 on shrimp packaging, forcing Ecuador’s shrimp industry to develop and reinforce its presence in other markets, including Europe and the U.S.

Ecuador reached USD 5.08 billion (EUR 4.56 billion) in shrimp export value in 2021, far surpassing the previous annual record set in 2020 of USD 3.6 billion (EUR 3.2 billion). In volume, the country also set a new record production total of 1.86 billion pounds (843,681 MT) of shrimp, a 24 percent jump compared to the previous record in 2020 of 1.49 billion pounds (675,852 MT).  

Ecuador is also finding a niche when it comes to certain sizes of shrimp not dominated by India. In the category of peeled shrimp, the top four sizes of shrimp sold in the U.S. were 21/25-count (59,661 MT), 31/40-count (46,335 MT), 26/30-count (43,667 MT), and 15/20-count (43,434 MT). Ecuador has consolidated its position as the largest supplier in the smaller mid-sizes (31/40 and 41/50) and the smallest sizes (51/60, 61/70 and under-70). Since 2019, India and Indonesia saw their volumes remain stable or drop, while Ecuador's volume increased, particularly in the smaller mid-sizes of 31/40-count and 41/50-count, where the country expanded exports 72 percent and 42 percent respectively, accounting for 58 percent and 66 percent of total U.S. imports.

India is still the largest supplier of the larger mid-size categories (21/25 and 26/30), representing 33 percent and 36 percent of total U.S. imports, respectively, but its share is falling, replaced by increased activity by Ecuador and Indonesia. In the case of 21/25-count, India’s exports fell to 19,612 MT in 2021 from 35,298 MT in 2019. Comparatively, over the same period, Ecuador saw exports in that category jump to 15,158 MT from 3,408 MT and Indonesia increased its exports in the 21/25-count category to 15,072 MT from 10,194 MT.

In the biggest-size categories, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam together represented 66 percent of under-15s and 80 percent of 15/20 sized shrimp sold in the U.S., with Indonesia surpassing India as the largest supplier of the biggest-sized shrimp, representing 21 percent and 34 percent of these imports, respectively.

“I believe that it’s reasonable to assume that these countries’ contributions to the supplies of the different size categories of peeled products are similar to their contributions to the supplies of shell-on products,” Shrimp Insights founder Willem van der Pjil said. “The trend of Indonesia accounting for most of the larger sizes, India accounting for most of the mid-sizes, and Ecuador accounting for most of the smaller sizes can also be observed for peeled products. And for peeled products, too, it’s likely that Ecuador will slowly start competing for market share in the other categories.”

Value-added shrimp products – mostly cooked shrimp but not breaded, which is reported separately – made up 15 percent of the U.S.' total shrimp imports. India, Vietnam, and Indonesia dominated this category, accounting for 86 percent and shipping 41,753 MT, 37,322 MT, and 36,988 MT, respectively, in 2021. In turn, the U.S. imported 62,182 MT of breaded shrimp, comprising 7 percent of its total shrimp import volume. This category was led by Indonesia with 22,510 MT, Vietnam with 13,349 MT, and Thailand with 13,071 MT.

In 2021, the U.S.’s top four shrimp suppliers increased their exports when compared to pre-pandemic 2019. India led the pack by a healthy margin, shipping 340,387 metric tons (MT) of shrimp to the U.S. in 2021, followed by Ecuador at 183,886 MT, Indonesia at 174,583 MT, and Vietnam at 88,163 MT. Thailand, Mexico, Argentina, China, Peru, and Bangledesh saw their total U.S. shrimp exports fall and have struggled to maintain their market shares.

Photo courtesy of rusty426/Shutterstock


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