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What competition do I face on the European frozen tuna market?

Takes about 7 minutes to read

In the long term, the increasing scarcity of tuna will be of great importance to the competitive position of frozen tuna suppliers. As there are few substitutes for frozen tuna at present, and given that the demand for frozen tuna products is set to remain strong, overall competition in the market for frozen tuna is expected to increase. It is anticipated that the fishermen supplying the tuna will see their position strengthened.

1 . What are the opportunities and barriers when you try to enter the market?

The entry barrier for frozen tuna exporters who want to enter the European Union is high. European legislation and requirements regarding the import of captured fish species in relation to food safety, traceability, and packaging are complex.  

Companies that have access are generally the better-organised companies that offer sufficient transparency. Those with their own fishing vessels or those that maintain very close ties with small-scale fishermen or large industrial fishing vessels.  

The European market’s entry requirements will remain the same or become even stricter over the short to long term.


  • Cooperate with your buyers, to effectively comply with European requirements and thus maintain your position in the European market. Cooperation will also lower the cost of complying with European requirements.
  • See our study about Buyer Requirements for Fish and Seafood for more information on European market requirements that you need to comply with.  
  • ITC’s Market Access Map offers more information on market requirements worldwide.  

2 . What are substitute products? 

Product competition for frozen tuna is low, because it is difficult to find good alternatives for frozen tuna fillets and steaks. However, the risk of substitution is increasing. This is particularly true for tuna used as an ingredient in processed products (e.g. salads), as for such applications there are less expensive alternatives for tuna. These include: lower-quality tuna, tuna in smaller portions, canned tuna, lower-value chicken or less expensive species of white fish. 

Other circumstances that influence substitution of frozen tuna are:  

  • In previous years, consumers in low-end market segments have switched to less expensive alternatives. This happened mostly in European countries with low or negative economic growth rates, like Spain and Italy.  
  • Buyers are likely to shift to substitutes for frozen tuna if suppliers are unable to guarantee constant supply volumes. 
  • Supply scarcity can also occur for individual species (e.g. yellowfin tuna), leading buyers to shift to other (abundantly available) species (e.g. skipjack tuna). 


  • Discuss with your buyers whether they are interested in value-added products, and discuss potential investment opportunities
  • You may be able to increase the market potential and value of your products if you are able to invest in value-added processing of your tuna
  • You must be able to guarantee constant supply volumes to your customers. If that is not possible alone, you must consider cooperating with other tuna suppliers

3 . Who are your rivals?

European imports 

Tuna imports peaked in 2013. This peak was mainly due to high prices in combination with a relatively high volume. The decline in 2014 and 2015 was mainly caused by lower prices.  

Most tuna exported to Europe is skipjack tuna.  

Spain is the largest market for frozen tuna suppliers, followed by Italy. The import of frozen tuna from Developing Countries in 2015 reached €175 million in Spain and €41 million in Italy. These two countries mainly import from Developing Countries.  

The small supply from ‘Rest of world’ is dominated by South Korea, the United States and New Zealand.  

Supply from Developing Countries 

Most frozen tuna sold in Europe comes from Developing Countries. Although tuna suppliers from Developing Countries are large in number, demand in Europe and other parts of the world is so high that competition between suppliers is low. Rivalry comes in particular from exporters in countries that have been granted preferential status within the EU’s import tariff regime. This is because they can supply at lower prices than other suppliers from developing countries without preferential status in the EU. 

Most of the countries with preferential status export substantial volumes of frozen tuna to Europe, with a value between €5-25 million per year. These circumstances are expected to remain the same in the short to medium term. This also means that the pattern of supplying countries exporting to Europe will not change substantially. 

Frozen tuna imports from Developing Countries totalled €236 million in 2015. The main suppliers are Seychelles, the Philippines, Guatemala, Cape Verde and Panama. Together these countries represent 45% of the total imports from Developing Countries. The import from Seychelles and Guatemala expanded fastest, thanks to a growth of 200% and 163%, respectively, in four years’ time. Other Developing Countries with good market shares are Mexico, Vietnam and Senegal.  

Rivalry is lowest in market segments with strong demand for sustainably-caught tuna, as the supply of sustainable tuna remains limited.  

Trade within Europe 

The import of frozen tuna from within Europe amounted to €92 million in 2015. This intra-EU trade is dominated by Spain and France. However the import value of Portugal is also increasing (+167% in four years). 


In the short to medium term, imported volumes and values of tuna to Europe are expected to remain relatively stable, but possible price fluctuations in the market may lead to either growth or a decline in imports. The pattern of supplying countries and main markets is also expected to remain more or less the same. 

However, in the long term, the increasing scarcity of tuna will start to influence prices and probably European import volumes as well. Prices will go up, and eventually import volumes to Europe will go down.  

In the future, tuna species are expected to become scarcer. As a result, rivalry between existing exporting companies for access to tuna is expected to increase. On the other hand, their position in relation to buyers will become stronger.  


  • Secure your supply of caught tuna, for example by developing long-term business relationships with fishermen
  • Secure your supply of tuna in general by choosing to source responsibly. See our study about Trends for Frozen Tuna for more information
  • Also see our study on Exporting Frozen Tuna to Europe for more information on supplying frozen tuna to Europe.

4 . How much power do you have as a supplier when negotiating with buyers?

There is a difference between the power held by buyers of high-value frozen tuna fillets and steaks, and that of buyers of frozen tuna in bulk. Buyers of high-value tuna products are less powerful, because of limited availability of these products. Buyers of tuna in bulk have more buyer power as there is much more availability of tuna in bulk.  

Frozen tuna buyers tend to invest in long-term relationships with suppliers (e.g. contracts and sometimes also buy-ins) of good quality tuna products in order to secure their supply.  

Buyer power in the European market for frozen tuna is expected to decline over the short to long term, due to: 

  • Increasing scarcity of tuna
  • Increasing demand for frozen tuna in the European Union
  • Increasing demand for frozen tuna products in upcoming markets, such as the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China)

These developments are expected to weaken the position of European buyers and improve market opportunities for exporters from developing countries.  

5 . How much power do you have as a buyer when negotiating with suppliers?

Although the power of frozen tuna buyers is relatively strong, the supplier power of the fishing companies that catch the tuna is even greater.  

Supplier power in the frozen tuna market is strengthened by: 

  • Supply shortage of (frozen) tuna. Suppliers of tuna are being approached by many different buyers and therefore enjoy a strong bargaining position. 
  • United efforts to influence the tuna price. For example, the World Tuna Purse Seine Organisation decided to reduce tuna fishing in an effort to stop tuna prices from weakening in mid 2015. 
  • Fishing companies that catch tuna are increasingly involved in processing and export. Most large companies that catch tuna are already fully integrated and are also involved in processing and export. 

Supplier power is predicted to grow further over the short to long term, given that tuna stocks will be under pressure and European buyers will face fierce competition while attempting to secure their supply. 


  • Maintain good relationships with your buyers
  • Make sure you get the best price and discuss with your buyers the options to realise higher added value

May 2016