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The European market potential for canned fish

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The trend is clear: consumers want simple, ready-to-eat and convenient seafood choices. With the increasing demand for processed seafood, the global canned fish market is rising. As the demand goes up, Europeans are increasingly calling for improved quality and health guarantees.

1. Product description

Canned fishes are processed and preserved in a sealed airtight container such as a tin or aluminium can. Water, oil or sauce is usually added to the fish and the can is sterilised. Canned fish typically has a shelf life from one to five years. In this report, we are focusing on several canned fish species that are relevant to Least Developed Countries in trade relations with Europe. The following are the species and their corresponding Harmonised System (HS) codes analysed in this study, including a description of the products covered.

Canned tuna

Tuna loins are pre-cooked, frozen and put in a metal can. Sauce, broth, brine, oil or salt is added. It is then sealed and heated to prevent spoilage. Canned tuna is available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and packaging styles, such as solid or fillets, chunks, flakes and shredded tuna.

  • HS 16041421 — Prepared and preserved skipjack, whole or in pieces (excl. minced);
  • HS 16041428 — Prepared or preserved skipjack, whole or in pieces (excl. minced, fillets known as ‘loins’ and such products in vegetable oil);
  • HS 16041431 — Prepared or preserved yellowfin tuna ‘thunnus albacares’, whole or in pieces, in vegetable oil (excl. minced);
  • HS 16041438 — Prepared or preserved yellowfin tuna ‘thunnus albacares’, whole or in pieces (excl. minced, fillets known as ‘loins’ and such products in vegetable oil);
  • HS 16041441 — Prepared or preserved tuna, whole or in pieces, in vegetable oil (excl. minced, skipjack and yellowfin tuna ‘thunnus albacares’);
  • HS 16041448 — Prepared or preserved tuna, whole or in pieces (excl. minced, fillets known as ‘loins’ and such products in vegetable oil, skipjack and yellowfin tuna ‘thunnus albacares’);
  • HS 16041490 — Prepared or preserved bonito ‘sarda spp.’, whole or in pieces (excl. minced).

Canned sardines

Sardines are canned in different ways, cooked by deep frying, steam cooking or smoked. At the cannery, the fish are washed and the heads usually removed. They are packed in different kinds of oil, water, tomato, chilli or other sauces.

  • HS 16041311 — Sardines, prepared or preserved, whole or in pieces, in olive oil (excl. minced sardines);
  • HS 16041319 — Sardines, prepared or preserved, whole or in pieces (excl. minced sardines and sardines in olive oil);
  • HS 16041390 — Prepared or preserved sardinella, brisling or sprats, whole or in pieces (excl. minced).

Canned mackerel

Mackerel is gutted, viscera, tail, head and fins removed. They are packed like sardines, but the fish bones are much bigger. The contents are then sealed in a can and processed by heat.

  • HS 16041519 — Mackerel of the species Scomber Scombrus and Scomber japonicus, prepared or preserved, whole or in pieces (excl. minced mackerel and fillets of mackerel);
  • HS 16041511 — Fillets of mackerel of the species Scomber Scombrus and Scomber japonicus, prepared or preserved;
  • HS 16041590 — Prepared or preserved mackerel of species Scomber Australasicus, whole or in pieces (excl. minced).

Canned anchovies

Anchovies are small, silvery fish measuring approximately four inches in length. Before packing, anchovies are beheaded, washed, skinned and filleted. Preserved anchovies can be readily found whole or filleted, salt-cured or canned in oil, sometimes with capers or olives.

  • HS 160416 — Prepared or preserved anchovies, whole or in pieces (excl. minced).

This report will refer to the different canned fish by species, regardless of the particular HS code, unless otherwise specified. For example, the report will refer to canned tuna in general when talking about canned yellowfin and canned skipjack, unless specifically indicated.

2. What makes Europe an interesting market for canned fish?

Europe’s high consumption

Europeans have a huge appetite for fish. According to the most recent data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the world average annual consumption of fish increased by 8% from 2005 to 2015, moving from 18.8 kg to 20.2 kg per capita. In this period, Asia’s consumption grew the most at 12%, followed by Europe (9%), Africa (9%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (5%).

In Europe, which has approximately 503 million people, seafood average annual consumption has reached 22.1 kg per capita, placing it above the world average.

Tuna is the most consumed marine species in Europe, according to a study by the European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA). Cod, salmon and Alaska pollock come next. European average annual tuna consumption, mostly canned, was 2.78 kg per capita in 2016, which corresponds to 11% of all fishery and aquaculture products consumed.

Europe’s average annual sardine consumption grew from 0.53 to 0.69 kg per capita between 2015 and 2016, a 30% increase. In 2016, European average annual per capita consumption of mackerel declined by 4% compared to 2015, due to reduced quotas for all European countries creating a negative trend in catches.

Fish consumption in leading European markets, France and Spain, also decreased in 2016 compared to 2015, especially in France, where household consumption fell 9% for fresh mackerel and 4% for canned mackerel. Spain’s household consumption of canned mackerel also decreased 4% while in fresh mackerel consumption increased by 1%.

European consumption of anchovy was 143,628 tonnes in 2015, of which Spain accounts for 40.8% and Italy 30.5%.

Because of its high consumption, Europe still sources canned fish from other countries to fulfil production needs and domestic demand. Europe’s self-sufficiency for fish and aquatic products was at 41.7% in 2016, which means that imports fulfilled a higher share of Europe’s demand than domestic catches and production. This is the lowest self-sufficiency rate since 2011.

For tuna, Europe’s 2016 self-sufficiency rate is even lower: 28%. Lower than the 2014 rate of 34%, the 28% rate represents a marginal improvement to 10 years ago, when it was 23%. Contrary to case of tuna, Europe is very well capable of meeting its needs for mackerel with a 123% self-sufficiency rate. Sardines, on the other hand, have a 74% self-sufficiency rate.


Europe’s domestic production of canned fish

Europe has huge consumer demand for canned fish and is also a key player in fish processing globally. The European canned seafood processing sector is mostly concentrated in Southern Europe, where Spain, Italy, France and Portugal are key players.

Spain leads the production of canned food in Europe. The leading product is canned tuna, which comprises two-thirds of the produced volume. Notably, Spain produces almost 70% of the canned tuna processed in Europe, with major companies, such as Jealsa, Frinsa and Grupo Calvo. Canned tuna comprises 83% of the canned food Spain exports. In addition to the Spanish domestic market, Spain’s canning companies concentrate 90% of their exports in other European countries, including Italy, France and Portugal, which are also major canning countries.


  • To get acquainted with the major fish canning companies in Spain, visit Galicia, where almost 60 fish canning companies are based. Contact ANFACO-CECOPESCA, a Spanish tuna processing organisation which represents the majority of these canners.
  • If you don’t speak Spanish, hiring a Spanish-speaking interpreter will be beneficial to ensure effective communication and negotiation with Spanish companies.

Spain also leads the production of canned anchovies with 60% of the total European production. Italy, Greece and France follow. Spain also exports large cans of salted anchovies to Morocco and Algeria, where they are reprocessed and re-exported to the European market.

European domestic production of canned mackerel grew slightly in 2017, when Poland outperformed France, the largest canned mackerel processor in the previous two years. Portugal, Spain and Bulgaria also feature among the five leading producers of canned mackerel in Europe.

Production of canned sardines is mostly concentrated in Latvia, Spain, Poland, Portugal and France. Canned sardine production shrank 14% from 2015 to 2016, partly due to decreased quotas causing reduced sardine catches, but recovered slightly in 2017.

Before entering the European market, exporters must acknowledge that Europe produces its own canned fish at steady production levels. As Figure 1 shows, overall production of canned tuna, sardines, mackerel and anchovies slightly increased in 2017, compared to the previous year. However, Europe’s domestic production could not yet meet EU demand. Imports of canned fish from other countries remain therefore very important and provide business opportunities for you to enter this market.

Huge business opportunity for non-European suppliers

According Eurostat data, canned tuna had the most demand among canned fish in Europe in 2016, followed by sardines, mackerel and anchovies. A 75% share of the canned tuna imported into Europe consists of skipjack tuna, while the remainder are yellowfin and other tuna species, such as albacore. From 2015 to 2018, volumes of canned tuna imported into Europe have increased marginally by 8%.

As Figure 2 shows, non-European suppliers deliver 64% of the imported volume of canned tuna, the remainder coming from suppliers within Europe. These non-EU suppliers come from Ecuador, Seychelles, Philippines, Mauritius and Ghana. The top European countries importing canned fish from non-EU suppliers are the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands.

A 60.5% majority of canned sardines imported in Europe are produced by non-EU suppliers. An overwhelming 91% of all canned sardines from non-European countries come from Morocco, while Thailand, Philippines, Tunisia and China supply the remainder. Most of the non-EU sardines go to France, UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.

Non-EU countries supply 79% of the canned anchovies imported in Europe, with Morocco taking 59% of the total market share among non-EU suppliers. Along with Morocco, Peru, Albania, Tunisia and Turkey also deliver large volumes of canned anchovies to Europe. The top markets in Europe for canned anchovies, in decreasing order of import volumes, are Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Portugal.

European suppliers, however, provide 83% of the canned mackerel to EU producers. The remainder comes from Morocco, China, Cape Verde, Ecuador and Peru. These supplies, in decreasing order import volumes, go to Italy, Spain, Portugal, UK and Germany.

Considering this data, it is easier for non-European suppliers to enter the market for canned tuna, canned sardines and canned anchovies than canned mackerel.

3. Which European markets offer opportunities for non-EU exporters of canned fish?

United Kingdom: strong but uncertain as Brexit looms

The UK was the top EU importing country of canned tuna from non-European suppliers from 2015 to 2018, according to data from Eurostat. In 2018, the UK imported a total of 92,809 tonnes from non-European suppliers, equivalent to 87% of the country’s total imports of canned tuna.

However, since 2016, UK imports of canned tuna have declined 9%, especially from Ghana and Seychelles. Thai Union owns the major canneries in both countries, which exclusively export to the European market, particularly the UK, predominantly supplying John West and several retailers’ private labels. The downward trend is caused by the performance of canned tuna in retail, as sales of canned products have declined over the last few years, with the latest figures showing a volume drop of approximately 10%.

Nonetheless, leading brands such as John West and Princes have recognised the growing demand for innovative and new products among British consumers, leading to increased canned fish products with experimental flavours and ingredients.

The UK is also the fourth largest European importing country for canned mackerel, after Portugal, Spain and Italy.

Brexit is likely to affect the trade relations of dominant canned tuna suppliers. If and when the country leaves the EU, the UK will have to negotiate new trade deals with its suppliers or risk a 24% tariff on canned fish products from any exporting nation.

The Philippines and the UK are working on a post-Brexit trade deal. Seychelles recently signed a deal with the UK to protect its supply to John West ahead of Brexit. Mauritius already has zero duties in the EU and the UK. Ecuador, one of the main suppliers of canned fish to Europe, recently signed a new trade agreement with the UK to ensure zero tariffs in case of Brexit.


  • Know the status of trade agreements between your country and European countries, particularly the UK and what happens in case of Brexit. Protect your business by looking at alternative markets to sell your product in case trade deals fall and tariffs are imposed.
  • Monitor the latest products of John West and Princes to check what kind of innovative products these companies are developing to increase consumer interest in canned fish and to understand potential changes in consumption patterns. Stay ahead of your competitors and prepare to meet your European customers’ demand in case they ask you for these specifications.

Germany: sustainable, healthy canned fish in demand

Germany is neither a tuna fishing nor processing nation. However, the country is an important market for canned tuna, especially for non-European suppliers. Germany has a few local processing companies producing value-added products, therefore relying heavily on foreign suppliers to meet demand. Most of the canned tuna products sold to Germany are under private labels, meaning these importers will work with their source companies to produce a product under the company’s specifications and sold under the company’s brand name.

Following the UK, Germany is the second largest European market for canned tuna from non-European suppliers. In 2018, Germany imported a total of 61,151 tonnes of canned tuna from non-EU suppliers, which corresponds to 66% of its total import volume and a 2% increase since 2017.

German customers mostly demand canned tuna from fisheries that do not use fish aggregation devices (FADs), a requirement that Ecuador, a major tuna loin supplier to Europe, has previously struggled with. FADs are floating devices placed to attract various fish species, generating bycatch. Under pressure for sustainability, Ecuadorian producers launched a new FAD management plan.

Yet, only one in ten tuna cans sold in Germany is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and tuna products on the German market caught by pole and line have the highest coverage of MSC certification at 68%.

Germany is also consistently in the top importers of canned sardines, canned mackerel and canned anchovies from non-European suppliers. The country ranks third, after the UK and France, when it comes to imports of canned sardines, with total volumes of 6,088.2 tonnes imported in 2018. Imports of canned anchovies have shown a positive trend since 2015, but German imports of canned mackerel have been steadily declining.

Germany’s fish market overall has shown promising growth over the years as the lifestyle of Germans change and the consumption of red meat decreases. Seafood consumption has been steadily rising in Germany, from 1.11 million tonnes in 2013 to 1.15 million tonnes in 2016.


  • In order to penetrate the German market, contact German retailers such as Lidl, Aldi, Rewe or Edeka.
  • Read the recent study released by the MSC Germany to better understand MSC’s presence in the German tuna market. This can be an untapped market gap in Germany that you should look into.

Italy: appetite for anchovies

The Italian canned tuna market is mostly dominated by imports from Spain, which account for 52% of the market. However, a 43.5% share of Italy’s total imports are controlled by various non-European suppliers, such as those from Cote d’Ivoire, Colombia, Seychelles and Ecuador. Import volumes from outside Europe have grown 8.1% from 2017 to 2018.

According to World Tuna Market, produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the largest brands in the Italian market are:

Italy is also the top importing European destination for canned anchovies from non-EU countries and the second top importer of canned mackerel, after Spain. Italian imports of canned mackerel have generally diminished over the years, but imports of canned anchovies have been steadily rising, showing a 15% jump from 2017 to 2018. Plus, anchovies are considered a delicacy and a consumer staple in Italy. This scenario provides an opportunity for you to enter the growing Italian market for canned anchovies.

France: imports from Africa dominate

The French canned fish industry is mostly concentrated by major players, such as Saupiquet and Petit Navire. Thai Union’s Seychelles plant is the main supplier to the company's French brand, Petit Navire. Currently, this brand has a 32% volume share of the French canned seafood market and is also the leader in the country’s canned tuna market with a 35.4% share in market value.

France is the third largest European importer of canned tuna from non-EU suppliers. The French market has been traditionally dominated by imports coming from African countries. Canned tuna imports into France come mostly from non-European suppliers in Seychelles, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador and Ghana, even though Spain provides a third of France’s total canned tuna products.

France is the leading importer of canned sardines in Europe, importing a total of 10,497 tonnes in 2018. Imports from non-European countries experienced rapid growth between 2016 and 2017 but slowed down in 2018. Morocco is still the main supplier with 61% of all of France’s canned sardine imports in 2015.

Spain: a huge market of consumers and re-exporters

Spain leads the production of canned fish in Europe, but it is also a very important market for non-European suppliers of canned fish. In fact, Spain is consistently among the top five importing European countries for the canned fish sector. Spain was the largest importer of canned mackerel from non-EU exporters in 2018 and the second biggest importer of canned anchovies after Italy.

Spain imported a total of 4,440 tonnes of canned mackerel in 2018, a modest 1.5% increase from the previous year. Spanish imports of canned anchovies from non-European countries also grew 3% from 2015 to 2018. Some of these volumes are re-exported to the European market after being relabelled, except when they are first imported customer-ready as a final product.

If you are interested in doing business with Spanish buyers, bear in mind that Spain is a major processing country exporting mostly within Europe. By engaging with the Spanish market, your product can also access the rest of Europe. Several Spanish companies, however, focus their marketing efforts in international markets, performing just 30% to 40% of their sales domestically. Companies such as Calvo, IG Montes, Garavilla and Group Consortium can provide you with the potential for global reach, if they can be engaged.

International markets are also a growing opportunity to engage with small-scale producers, such as Conservas Fredo and Palacio de Oriente. Exporters with established global connections outside Europe should communicate with these Spanish producers, which are keen on expanding their businesses internationally.

The Netherlands: an important transit route

Like Germany, the Netherlands is a non-producing nation but a major transit route in Europe. In Europe’s canned tuna sector, the Netherlands ranks as the fifth highest importer from non-European suppliers with a total of 41,226 tonnes of canned tuna imported in 2018. This figure is slightly lower than 2016 and 2017 volumes, which were 46,993 and 49,120 tonnes respectively, but represents a marginal improvement from 2015 (38,927 tonnes).

Tuna products are transported and moved through Dutch seaports and warehouses to Europe’s supermarkets. The Netherlands’ major markets for canned tuna re-exports are Germany, France, Belgium and Italy. Dutch exports to these four markets have grown considerably since 2014, particularly to Germany (121%).

Dutch buyers also increased imports of canned sardines from non-European suppliers, adding 56% in volume from 2015 to 2018. Main re-export markets for Dutch canned sardine re-exports include France, Germany, UK and Belgium. France showed the strongest growth since 2014 with a 36% increase in imports from the Netherlands.

John West, Princes and Rio Mare are the major brands in the Netherlands, while Aldi and Lidl sell under private labels.

The founder of Dutch pole-and-line tuna brand Fish Tales recently launched a campaign called Stop Foute Tonijn. The campaign claims that 93% of the canned tuna that households purchase in the Netherlands is ‘wrong tuna’ (foute tonijn in Dutch), based on a study by IRI market research agency. According to the campaign, the ‘right tuna’ can be identified in the 3.11% of canned tuna carrying the MSC logo, which is caught using pole and line. Those that are not MSC certified and not caught by pole and line fall in the ‘wrong tuna’ category.

While Dutch consumers do recognise the MSC label as a seal of sustainability, the higher price of MSC-labelled products can be a barrier. Overall trends put sustainability concerns above price among European consumers, but in the Netherlands price is an important consideration. The challenge for the Dutch market for canned fish, particularly for canned tuna, is to make MSC-labelled cans more affordable. Exporters looking to enter the Dutch market should pay attention to this.


Eastern Europe: small but steady

While Eastern Europe is not a huge market for canned fish, some countries have been consistently importing higher volumes from non-European countries over the years. Poland is the largest importer of canned tuna in Eastern Europa, usually sourcing from Ecuador and the Philippines. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic almost doubled its volumes from non-European suppliers between 2015 and 2018, also marginally increasing imports of canned sardines in the same period.

After the Czech Republic, Romania has consistently had demand for canned sardines and canned mackerel, although volumes did retract from 2017 to 2018. Czech canned sardines and canned mackerel imports, for instance, went down 30% in 2018.

Expect household purchases of canned fish, particularly canned tuna and canned sardines, to grow in the short term because of affordability and convenience. Expect increases in canned fish imports in the medium and long terms as Eastern Europeans consume more seafood for health reasons.


  • To enter this market, gain access through trading nations such as the Netherlands or Germany, which do business throughout Europe by means of the major ports of Rotterdam and Hamburg.
  • Check out Polish seafood canner Wilbo, which produces two key brands: Neptun and Taaka Ryba. Both brands have extensive product portfolios covering a range of canned fish, including tuna. They may be able to provide potential access to buyers in other Eastern European countries.

What’s the story behind the can?

Storifying products and businesses has become one of the bases of marketing campaigns, including stories about people, environmental stewardship and animal welfare, among others. The new generation of European consumers in particular care about the story behind the products they buy.

To appeal to European consumers, you must consider what kind of stories add values to your products. It can be about recipes that your mother can create with a simple can of tuna or a story of a fisherman who catches fish using artisanal methods in the Pacific. European consumers are interested in authentic, healthy and sustainable products. Storytelling may prove a huge competitive advantage, if you’re able to sell it.

Social media such as Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn can be powerful tools to engage consumers, especially millennials or those born between 1981 and 1996.

Dutch company Fishtales’ story includes working closely with local communities, sourcing from MSC-certified fisheries and using responsible fishing methods such as pole and line to curb overfishing in the world’s oceans and support sustainable fishing.

Italy’s largest canned fish processor, Rio Mare, focuses storifying efforts on the health benefits of its products. The company has a wellness section on their website, indicating nutritional benefits, calorie and nutritional values, health benefits and even doctors’ opinion on their products. Traditional, more experimental and new recipes are also a staple feature in the company’s online materials, encouraging the consumers to tag and hashtag their recipes on social media for better promotion or exposure.


  • Study social media facts and trends to see how European companies adapt to them. Check the product websites of large canned fish companies such as Rio Mare, Princes and John West for inspiration.

Europe wants more certified-sustainable canned fish

European countries are among the largest markets for seafood products sourced from sustainable fisheries. A recent consumer survey in various European countries showed that the MSC label is gaining in recognition and importance in most of Europe, though Friend of the Sea (FOS) certification is more popular in Southern Europe.

According to a study by the MSC GlobeScan, sustainably sourced and environmentally friendly seafood products are ranked just above price as a purchase motivator — a consideration that is unique in the European market. Awareness is strong in Europe, particularly in Switzerland, Austria and Germany. A 47% share of European consumers recall seeing the MSC label, up from 43% in 2016. The prices of MSC-labelled products versus those which do not have the seal, however, can still affect purchase behaviour, as discussed in the case of the Netherlands in the previous section.

The MSC certification is increasingly recognised as a benchmark of sustainability, especially in European retail organisations. The blue seal and other such sustainability certifications ensure the sustainability of fisheries and compliance with the rules. This upwards trend is forecasted to continue.

If your fishery is not yet MSC certified or doesn’t have another certification system accepted by your customers, consider the possibility of starting a fishery improvement project (FIP), which many of your clients accept as evidence that you are focused on sustainability and that your fishery may be on the way to MSC certification.

In 2018, 16 tuna fisheries were MSC certified, with seven fisheries in assessment. MSC-certified tuna is mainly caught in the Pacific Ocean. Albacore, yellowfin and skipjack are the most caught tuna species by MSC-certified fishing companies. European companies including Sainsbury's, Lidl, Carrefour, Aldi and Ahold Delhaize have restructured their supply chains to allow them to commit to MSC-certified seafood.

The MSC certification for mackerel has been suspended. According to the MSC website, mackerel caught on or after 2 March 2019 cannot be sold as MSC-certified or bear the blue MSC label as all mackerel fisheries are currently suspended from the programme. The suspension affects all four certificates for fisheries across eight countries and comes after mackerel stocks in the northeast Atlantic dropped below a warning level, while catches remain far higher than advised by scientists, according to a report published by MSC.

There are currently two MSC-certified anchovy fisheries: the Cantabrian Sea purse seine anchovy fishery and the Argentine anchovy. For sardines, there are three MSC-certified fisheries: South Australia, Cornwall in the UK, and Gulf of California fisheries. Two anchovy fisheries are under suspension: Bay of Biscay in Spain and South Brittany in France.

Aside from certifications and FIPs, another growing trend in the canned fish sustainability sector is the type of fishing method used to catch the fish. Unlike purse seine, which uses FADs or longlining, both of which yield a high percentage of bycatch, the pole-and-line method is considered environmentally friendly because of its selective fishing technique.

Pole and line refers to an ancient, artisanal fishing method that supplies approximately 10% of the world’s canned tuna today, mostly from the western and central Pacific and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. Some of the European brands that distribute pole-and-line caught tuna are Fishtales, Fish4ever, Frinsa and Jealsa.

Another method deemed to be more sustainable is the FAD-free purse seining or catching free schools of tuna. Currently, the Netherlands-based global tuna marketing company Pacifical has an agreement with eight of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) countries (Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands) to promote FAD-free sustainable tuna.

Fishing methods for other species such as mackerel, anchovies and sardines usually involve purse seine and mid-water trawl nets. As consumer awareness of fishing methods impacts grows, companies have adapted to become increasingly more transparent about their fishing methods. For example, Princes, John West and Rio Mare have dedicated website pages explaining their practices. It is important for these companies that the nets used in purse seine or trawling operations avoid the destruction of marine life in the ocean and decrease unnecessary bycatch.


  • See this study by MSC GlobeScan to learn more about European consumers.
  • Attend trade fairs for frozen tuna suppliers, such as the European Tuna Conference (ETC), Seafood Expo and Conxemar trade fairs. The annual Seafood Expo in Belgium is an ideal place to meet buyers from all over the world. Conxemar is the biggest seafood trade show in Spain, usually held in October, where you can learn more about the Spanish and Southern European fish and seafood industries. Organised by Atuna, ETC offers updates on trends and practices in the tuna industry. Its 2018 edition focused on traceability and sustainability in the tuna supply chain.
  • To verify which fisheries are MSC certified, simply visit their website, which also explains the certification process in detail.
  • Check the Fishery Progress website to verify the status of current FIPs, which have to update their information on the site every six months to allow for progress tracking.
  • To apply for FOS certification or to verify if a fishery or fleet is certified, visit this page. If you are new, their website also offers a step-by-step procedure for certification.


Traceability has become an integral part of quality and sustainability assurances. More companies and retailers, such as Rio Mare, feature an online traceability system where consumers can simply enter a code in order to find out the story behind each can, from the moment the fish is caught to processing, canning and sterilisation. European import regulations also require companies to provide proof that their products have been treated according to certain standards, which is made possible by the traceability of company supply chains.

These traceability systems not only provide reassurances to consumers, they also help retailers and manufacturers monitor defects and evaluate their products along the supply chain.

Recently, blockchain technology in global fisheries are starting to change traceability and helping fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. This innovation tracks the journey of the fish from ‘bait to plate’. The blockchain platform gives environmental groups, retailers, consumers and certification bodies, globally, live access to verify how the fish was caught. It also allows live verification of the vessel, method, area and period, and processing details.


  • Make sure your processing is compliant with all EU regulations and parameters, particularly temperature, pressure, sealing and microbiology.
  • All processing and transportation should conform to an internationally recognised standard, for instance, for pasteurisation and sterilisation.
  • Check the EU Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed for reports of contamination or breaches in food safety standards.

Expansion of product ranges

In Europe, canned fish with easy-open lids remain popular and are the most widely used packaging style. However, product ranges have been expanding to include pouches, easy-open cups and plastic cups, in addition to new and more interesting flavours, sauces and complimentary sides, particularly for preserved and processed tuna. It is important for exporters to monitor new products and trends in the European market if you want to deliver customised packages. Innovation is also an important aspect of the market — you have to always be up to date.

Consumers want no-drain products with no preparation needed, thus product lines such as warm meals infused with sauces and flavours becoming a popular hit among brands.

For example, John West has introduced its tuna Infusions and Steampots line with ready-to-eat meals. Flavours in tuna pouches are also been tried to match the changing European consumer taste with the inclusion of Asian, Moroccan and Indian style cuisines. Rio Mare has also introduced its Insalatissime, ready-to-eat product line, which includes pre-cooked tuna with pasta and vegetables.

Figure 3. Rio Mare’s Mexican tuna salad and John West’s smoked sardines and tuna basil salads on supermarket shelves in the Netherlands.

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Mackerel has been mostly packaged in cans of brine, tomato or wine but also featuring different styles of cooking, such as grilled and smoked, including a variety of infused flavours and sauces from various cuisines. Easy-peel packaging for sardines, presented in a variety of oils, have been a popular choice among European retailers.

Anchovies are usually mass packaged in jars or tins, but some companies have been increasingly promoting their anchovy products in gourmet style packaging, particularly for Cantabrian anchovies from the waters of Northern Spain.


  • Consumers are key. Changes in product ranges as well as packaging are mostly due to changing consumer habits and demands. Keep yourself up to date with consumption trends by monitoring retailers’ websites and supermarkets’ assortments. Be creative in exploring new options to improve the product.
  • The wide range of new sauces incorporated to canned fish shows that Europeans consumers are open to trying new flavours. Non-EU suppliers should also try to introduce their own recipe flavours to market.

This study has been carried out on behalf of CBI by Seafood Trade Intelligence Portal.

Please review our market information disclaimer.

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