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What is the demand for fish and seafood on the European market?

Takes about 26 minutes to read

With an average consumption of 24.3 kilograms (kg) of fish and seafood per capita and an estimated 12.8 million tonne total consumption in 2017, Europe is an important market for fish and seafood. In terms of imports, with a total value of $22.1 billion in 2018, Europe was the second largest fish and seafood importer in the world. Do not, however, mistake Europe for a single market. It is a diverse group of countries with separate but interrelated markets. Success in Europe depends on an understanding of the needs of the different target markets and audiences.


1 . What makes Europe an interesting market for fish and seafood?

Europeans like to eat fish!

Consumption varies between countries. The Portuguese eat, on average, 57 kg per person per year, while Hungarians only eat 5.2 kg (EUMOFA 2018). In 2017, Portugal registered the highest per capita household expenditure ($410), which is triple the EU average and represents an increase of 4% over 2016, and of 68% over 2000. With these numbers, Portugal really stands out in Europe and is worthwhile for you to study.

Among the six largest countries, by population, annual per capita consumption varies from 45.7 kg in Spain to 13.9 kg in Germany. Figure 1 shows the consumption of fish and seafood in Europe’s six largest countries, in terms of population size.

Total European consumption of fish and seafood in 2016 was almost 13 million tonnes, and is on the rise. EUMOFA reports that, in 2017, European consumers spent a total of $67.3 billion (or $131 per person) on fish and seafood. This is a 15-year record and 2.9% above 2016. These figures exclude restaurant spending and other “out of the home expenditure”. So in reality, spending on fish and seafood is much higher than these figures suggest.

Tips:

  • Read chapter 3.1 of EUMOFA’s 2018 Fish Market Report which is based on a survey of 28,000 European consumers and reports on country wise fish and seafood consumption.
  • Visit retailer websites from several EU countries to better understand what consumers are eating where. Check, for example, Albert Heijn in the Netherlands, Alcampo in Spain and Carrefour in Belgium. 
  • If we direct you to websites that are not in English, use the google chrome translate option. It allows you to find information which you could otherwise not access.

Compared to meat, fish still has a lot to gain in Europe

While Europeans spend almost $68 billion on fish and seafood, compared to the $260 billion spent on meat products (EUMOFA 2018), their fish and seafood consumption is still limited. As such, there is plenty of room for consumption growth and a potential opportunity for you. In most European countries, consumers eat more than five to ten times as much meat as they eat fish. Southern Europe is the only exception.

Portugal is the European country that spends the most on seafood and fish relative to other animal protein. The Portuguese eat almost as much fish as they eat meat. Italy, France and Spain displayed different purchasing patterns (EUMOFA 2018). In France, households spent four times as much on meat as on fish. In Italy, expenditure on meat was three times higher, and in Spain it was two times higher. Although lower than Portuguese consumption, the other Sourthern European countries still eat more fish and seafood than the European average.

One of the key explanations behind the relatively low amount of fish and seafood consumption in Europe is price. Fish and seafood are generally much more expensive than most meat products and the difference in price seems to have increased. EUMOFA reports that while prices for meat have remained largely unchanged between 2013 and 2017, prices for fish and seafood have increased by ten percent.

Tips:

  • If you visit Europe, go into a supermarket and compare the fish and the meat products with regards to assortment, price and the space the products get on store shelves. This will give you an idea about differences between what is on offer in different countries and stores.
  • If you visit Europe, carefully check restaurant menus and try to analyse the amount of meat versus the amount of fish on the menu. Also check the amount of fish-focused restaurants available in the city that you visit.
  • Check the figures presented by EUMOFA in the Europe Fish Market report chapter 3.2 which provides a detailed overview of fish versus meat consumption per country.  

Europe is the world’s second largest importer of fish and seafood

Europe’s import of fish and seafood is on the rise. Figure 2 shows that, after a small drop from 2014 to 2015, Europe’s fish and seafood imports from outside of Europe increased each year, reaching new heights of $22.1 billion in 2018. The total value of Europe’s fish and seafood imports from developing countries showed the same pattern and increased from $13.4 billion in 2015 to $16.4 billion in 2018.

With a trade balance of -$11.75 billion in 2018, Europe imports more fish and seafood than it exports. Europe’s imports from developing countries, worth $16.4 billion, mainly consists of exotic fish and seafood species such as tuna, reef fishes, and warm water shrimps. Europe’s exports, worth $4.7 billion, mainly consist of fish species such as salmon, mackerel and flatfish.

The market share that developing countries hold in Europe’s total fish and seafood imports has been, and is expected to remain, relatively stable (between 70% and 75%). Europe’s five largest suppliers from developing countries are China, Ecuador, Vietnam, Morocco, and India. Looking exclusively at the world’s least developed countries, Mauritania, Bangladesh, Senegal, Madagascar, and Tanzania are Europe’s five largest suppliers. Specific product groups, and their main suppliers, are presented in the last section of this study.

Tips:

  • Get access to TradeMap and play around with trade data yourself. It will provide you with detailed insights in the trade flows of the products that you are interested in. Fish and seafood are covered under custom codes HS03 and HS16. Registration is free for developing countries.
  • Check the OECD country list to understand which countries fall under the definition of developing countries, and which countries fall under the definition of least developed countries. This will help you better understand which countries are being discussed when using these terms.

Uncertain conditions may slow the growth of fish consumption and trade

We expect that EU consumption of fish and seafood will remain stable in the short term, and might even increase slightly, if the current trends, detailed in the CBI Trend Study, continue. Europe’s economy has been growing for several years in a row, driven by increased consumer expenditure. As we can see in the EUMOFA figures above, fish and seafood sales also profited from the positive economic conditions.

Although the economic outlook for Europe was still rather positive in 2018, early 2019 forecasts are more concerning. The European Commission says that with the Italian economy close to stagnation, the uncertainty around Brexit and a significantly weaker rate of growth in Germany, economic growth in the euro zone will be slow this year. Early May 2019, however, Bloomberg reports that the European commission’s first quarter financial results were much more positive than anticipated. This gives some reason for optimism.

In the long term, the consumption of fish and seafood may be affected by other factors. For example, despite the current growth of seafood consumption, younger people tend to eat less fish than previous generations. This poses challenges to maintaining Europe’s level of fish consumption in the long run. To overcome these challenges, it is important to understand the trends that influence young European’s consumer behaviour.

Tips:

Though the growth of fish and seafood consumption may slow down in Europe, if you keep in mind that Europe is the world’s second largest importer of fish and seafood and that developing countries play such an important role, it is clear that the EU offers you a variety of opportunities to capture a share of this important market. However, to find the right market for your product, you first need to understand the differences in market potential between the countries within the EU.

2 . Which European markets offer the most opportunities for fish and seafood?

One of the most important things you should keep in mind when looking to expand your market in Europe is that Europe is not a single market but rather several distinct markets that affect each other. To help you understand some of the regional differences in the consumption and import of fish and seafood, we divide the continent into three geographic blocks: 1) Southern Europe, 2) North Western Europe and the Nordic countries, and 3) Eastern Europe.

Southern Europe hosts Europe’s biggest importers

Southern Europe consists of the countries along the Mediterranean Sea. It includes Greece, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, but also the smaller countries Cyprus and Malta.

Southern Europe’s imports of fish and seafood from developing countries totalled $10 billion in 2018. This is 62% of Europe’s total import value from developing countries. It also represented almost 85% of Southern Europe’s total import value from outside Europe.

Looking at Southern Europe’s five biggest markets, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece increased import value for the 4th year in a row, in 2018. Only France saw its import value from developing countries decline in 2018. This is illustrated in figure 3.

Four product groups represent 85% of Southern Europe’s total imports from developing countries. These groups consist of molluscs (mainly squid and cuttlefish) at $2.7 billion, crustaceans (mainly shrimp) at $2.4 billion, prepared and preserved fish (mainly tuna loins and canned tuna) at $2 billion and fish fillets and other fish meat at $1.2 billion.

The largest suppliers to Southern Europe are Morocco ($1.2 billion), Ecuador ($1.2 billion), China ($1 billion), Argentina ($760 million) and India ($590 million). Morocco is the largest supplier of molluscs, Ecuador the largest supplier of shrimp and tuna, China a large supplier of fish fillets and molluscs, Argentina a large supplier of shrimp and India a large supplier of molluscs and shrimp.

Besides the top 5 suppliers, there are 17 other developing countries that each exported more than $100 million worth of fish and seafood to Southern Europe in 2018. This group includes Peru, Namibia, Senegal, Madagascar and the Philippines.

Tips:

  • To gain a feeling for Southern Europe’s shrimp consumption habits, read the article: ‘Portugal - the country where size matters’ in the ShrimpTails magazine.
  • Visit the Conxemar fish and seafood expo in Vigo, to network with buyers from throughout the region as well as the rest of the world. Conexmar is the biggest seafood trade show in Spain and the main seafood show in Southern Europe. It is an annual show that usually takes place in October.
  • Subcribe to the Conxemar magazine to increase your understanding of the situation in the Spanish and broader Southern European fish and seafood industry. A subscription to the digital version of the magazine is $45 a year.  
  • Be sure to have a translator with you if you go to Southern Europe and you don’t speak the local language. It will make matters much easier.

North Western Europe and the Nordic countries are a good second

The second most populous block of countries in Europe is in North Western Europe, which in this study includes the Nordic countries. North Western Europe consists of the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, the UK, Ireland and Iceland. The Nordic countries consist of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.

North Western European and the Nordic countries’ imports of fish and seafood from developing countries totalled $5.5 billion in 2018. This is 34% of Europe’s total import value from developing countries. It also represented almost 64% of North Western Europe and the Nordic countries’ import value from outside Europe.

Looking at the most important markets, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries increased their import value for the fourth consecutive year. Other large countries in the region did not, however, and import values in Germany, Belgium and Denmark have been particularly unstable. In the UK, the import value declined from 2017 to 2018, whereas the UK increased imports in the years before.

It is important to realise that the Netherlands is not necessarily increasing its import value because consumption in the country is increasing. As the Netherlands is a hub for trade with other member states in the region and throughout Europe, we expect that the increase in imports in the Netherlands is largely at the cost of imports in other countries.

The UK is an interesting market to look at, separately, as it has a dynamic that is different to that of the rest of the region. The UK is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Europe and each of minority group has their own tastes for exotic seafood and fish. To add to this, while there is more interaction between the markets of other countries in the region – the Netherlands, for example, importing for other North Western countries – the UK has its own importers and supply chains.

Three product groups represented 90% of North Western Europe and the Nordic countries’ total imports from developing countries: frozen and prepared and preserved crustaceans (mainly shrimp) at $2.3 billion, frozen fish fillets at $1.5 billion, and prepared and preserved fish (mainly tuna loins and canned tuna) at $1.2 billion.

The largest suppliers to North Western Europe and the Nordic countries are China ($1.1 billion), Vietnam ($1 billion), India ($430 million), Ecuador ($406 million), and Turkey ($310 million). China is the largest supplier of reprocessed frozen fish fillets, Vietnam, the largest supplier of shrimp and frozen fish fillets, India, the second largest supplier of shrimp, Ecuador, the largest canned tuna supplier and Turkey, a large supplier of fish fillets. 

Besides the top five suppliers, there were six other developing countries that each exported more than $100 million worth of fish and seafood to North Western Europe and the Nordic countries in 2018. This group consisted of Bangladesh, Morocco, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Mauritius.

Tips:

  • Visit the The Seafood Expo Global, which takes place in Brussels, Belgium, every year in April or May, to meet buyers from all over Europe and the world; the bi-annual Fish International in Bremen, Germany, to meet German importers, wholesalers, retailers, as well as suppliers to the German market from across Europe and, in the Netherlands, visit the PLMA International in Amsterdam, the biggest retail focused Private Label show in North Western Europe, taking place each year in May, to meet with retailers and their suppliers.
  • If you attend these events, be sure to include a visit to stores and companies in the area to learn more about how your products and those of your competitors, are packaged, marketed and sold.
  • The UK is a market on its own. Visit fish mongers, supermarkets and potential buyers in London or any other major city to get a better understanding of the market.
  • Check the Seafish website, which offers a large amount of data, studies and overviews of the UK industry.
  • Most North Western European importers are united in associations. Through the association websites you can find most of the importers in each country. Examples are the Dutch Fish Importers Association, the German Seafood Verband and the Danish Seafood Association.

Eastern Europe remains a small but promising market

Eastern Europe consists of a group of 11 countries, including Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia. The biggest countries in Eastern Europe are Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic.

Eastern European imports from developing countries are rather flat. Import value fell from $418 million in 2014 to $359 million in 2015 and then increased year by year to $415 million in 2018.

Figure 5 provides a snapshot of Eastern European imports. Poland alone represents almost 50% of Eastern European imports from developing countries. Other interesting markets in the region which are rapidly increasing their direct import value from developing countries are Romania and Estonia.

Though the overall value of imports of fish and seafood from non-European countries into Eastern Europe has increased since 2014, a smaller share comes from developing countries. In 2014, about 65% of the value of Eastern European fish and seafood imports came from developing countries, which then totalled $650 million. In 2018, only 50% of Eastern Europe’s total fish and seafood import value ($820 million) came from developing countries. This was accounted for by imports from Russia and the US.

Eastern European imports from developing countries mainly consist of frozen fish fillets, worth $206 million (mainly Alaska pollock and hake), prepared and preserved fish (mainly tuna) at $87 million and crustacean (mainly shrimp) at $56 million. Interestingly, while import values of fish fillets and prepared and preserved fish are relatively flat, the value of crustaceans almost doubled between 2014 and 2018.     

We expect that Eastern Europe’s imports of fish and seafood will continue to grow over the coming years. Main drivers of fish consumption in Eastern Europe will be improved economic conditions on one hand, and broader acceptance of fish and seafood as a healthy protein on the other.

At this time, Eastern Europe's main suppliers from developing countries are China (Alaska pollack and salmon fillets), Vietnam (shrimp and pangasius), Turkey (trout and sea bream), Ecuador (tuna), and Argentina (hake). China was the only country to export more than $100 million to Eastern Europe. The remaining four countries exported between $25 million and $60 million each.

Six other developing countries exported more than $10 million to Eastern Europe. These countries are Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Thailand, Albania, Morocco, and India.

Tips:

Opportunities are all over Europe but you need to find your niche

So, current opportunities for fish and seafood exports to Europe are mainly in Southern Europe and North Western Europe and the Nordic countries. However, if you manage to gain access to certain Eastern European markets now, you may get a step ahead of your competitors, growing in those markets as their appetite for fish and seafood grows.

To really understand where to go, you need to understand which products sell best where. We will support you to identify the products with the most potential in the next chapter.

Tip:

  • Read the CBI fish and seafood product fact sheets to find the market potential of specific species and the best product-market combinations.

3 . Which products from developing countries have the most potential on the European fish and seafood market?

The most important product groups that Europe imported in 2018 (see figure 6) are HS0306 (crustaceans), HS1604 (prepared and preserved fish), HS0307 (molluscs) and HS0304 (fish fillets and other fish meat). Together they represent over 80% of total import value. Within these groups, the most important products are shrimp, tuna, cuttlefish and squid, and a broad variety of fish fillets.

After a difficult year in 2015, during which all major product groups decreased in value by five to ten percent, almost all groups began to recover in 2016. By 2018, import values were slightly higher than they were in 2014. Over the recovery period, total import volume increases ranged from 114% (HS0301, live fish) and 55% (HS0307), to 'only' 10% (HS0304 and HS0306).

The only product group to show a negative development since 2015 is HS0308 (aquatic invertebrates, such as sea cucumber, jellyfish, and urchins), losing almost 50% of its 2015 import value and going from a share of around 1% in 2015 (similar to product group HS0305 as shown below) to a non-substantial amount.

Warm water shrimp import volumes stable but prices low

We expect import volumes to remain relatively stable in the near future, however, we expect prices, especially for Pacific white shrimp, to decline further due to oversupply. See the CBI Product Fact Sheets for Pacific white shrimp and black tiger shrimp for more details on the markets for specific products. Also read the CBI Trend Study to learn more about the consumption trends that influence overall fish and seafood consumption

Of Europe’s total crustacean imports, about 87% is sourced from developing countries. Crustaceans exported to the EU from developing countries include a variety of frozen products of which the most important are warm water shrimp (95%), rock lobsters (2.5%) and crab (1%).

Warm water shrimp includes all kind of shrimp but the vast majority is accounted for by Pacific white shrimp from India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Ecuador. Another warm water shrimp species exported to the EU is black tiger shrimp, which is mainly sourced from Bangladesh, Vietnam and Madagascar.

Pacific white shrimp exporters have two markets in Europe. Southern European processors in Spain, France (and to a certain extent, Italy) purchase head-on shell-on shrimp from Ecuador and several countries in Central America. They cook the shrimp in their facilities in Europe and sell their products as cooked refreshed products into their internal markets.

All European countries also import peeled Pacific white shrimp products. Mainly from India and Vietnam. Pacific white shrimp is not only imported under the category of crustaceans (HS0306), but also under the category of prepared and preserved crustacean (HS1605).

The Pacific white shrimp imported as prepared and preserved has undergone at least two processing steps. For example, the product is cooked and peeled. Prepared and preserved shrimp represents about 23% of Europe’s total warm water shrimp imports.

Black tiger shrimp is regarded by Europeans as a premium shrimp compared to Pacific white shrimp. Its major market is in North Western Europe and in France. If destined for the wholesale market, it is often sourced from Bangladesh. If it is sourced for retail, it is often from Vietnam and Madagascar.

Although volumes are less significant, the EU also imports a variety of wild-caught shrimp from all over the world. If it is large size wild-caught shrimp, it is often referred to as a sea tiger and imported as a head-on shell-on product. If it is a smaller size shrimp it is often imported as a peeled product which will be used by European processors who, for example, sell it to the salad industry. Peeled wild-caught warm water shrimp products are a relatively low-priced product in the market. 

Tips:

Prepared and preserved Tuna

Although prepared and preserved fish products imported from developing countries include a variety of products, tuna accounts for the majority (75%, of a $3.4 billion total of imported prepared and preserved fish in 2018). In 2018, the EU imported a total of $2.9 billion of prepared and preserved tuna from outside the EU, of which $2.6 billion came from developing countries (90%). The biggest European importers of tuna from developing countries are Spain, Italy, the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands.

It is important to realise that Europe’s prepared and preserved tuna imports consist of two products: 1) finished product (canned tuna), and 2) raw materials (pre-cooked loins) for Europe’s canning industry.

Spain and Italy have a domestic tuna processing industry. These countries import pre-cooked skipjack, yellowfin and other tuna loins to process into canned products. Countries like the UK, Germany and the Netherlands mainly import finished canned products. 

In Spain and Italy, imports of loins represented respectively 75% and 30% of the total import value of prepared and preserved tuna. In the Netherlands and the UK, the import of loins only represents four percent and less than one percent of total prepared and preserved tuna imports.

Ecuador is Europe’s largest supplier of tuna, accounting for $710 million worth of tuna in 2018. Other large exporters of prepared and preserved tuna products to Europe are Mauritius, Seychelles, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Ghana (all between $150 and $300 million in 2018). But many smaller players compete for the opportunities that the European canned tuna and precooked tuna loin market offer.

  • Atuna is your news source for the tuna industry. Check the website and subscribe for access to the latest news and insights.
  • Atuna does not only operate an intelligence portal, it also organises the annual European tuna conference connected to the Seafood Expo Global. If you attend Seafood Expo Global, visit this conference as it is close by and takes place at the same time of year, it will give you valuable insights into the tuna industry and it is the perfect networking event for people involved in the tuna industry.

Squid, Cuttlefish and Octopus

It is clear from the data that squid, cuttlefish and octopus, together, are a major product exported to Europe from developing countries. The way imports of these species are reported in European trade data has changed from 2016 to 2017, which makes it difficult to look at the longer-term trend.

Squid and cuttlefish, and octopus accounted for 50% and 40% of total EU imports of molluscs from developing countries in 2018, respectively. Of Europe’s total imports, 75% of squid and cuttlefish is imported from developing countries and close to 100% of octopus is imported from developing countries.

Southern Europe represents almost 88% of Europe’s total import value for squid and cuttlefish from developing countries. North Western Europe and the Nordic countries and Eastern Europe represent 6% each. Within Southern Europe, Spain represents 55% and Italy 32%.

India, China, Peru, Morocco, and South Africa are Europe’s largest suppliers of squid and cuttlefish, representing 65% of Europe’s total import value, each taking more or less an equal market share. Nine other countries, including Thailand, Argentina, Vietnam, Mauritania and Vietnam jointly represent 24% of the remaining export value and exported at least $10 million each.

Looking at octopus, Southern Europe represents close to 100% of Europe’s total imports from developing countries with Spain and Italy representing 60% and 29% respectively. Europe’s main suppliers of octopus from developing countries are Morocco (44%), Mauritania (23%) and Mexico (7%). Other smaller suppliers of octopus are Indonesia, Senegal, Tunisia, Vietnam, China, Algeria, and India, all representing between one and five percent.

For both squid and cuttlefish, and for octopus, Spain is also an important re-exporter. Spain, for example, supplies Portugal with about 50% of its squid, cuttlefish and octopus and also supplies various countries in North Western and Eastern Europe.

  • The two dominant markets in Europe are Italy and Spain. If you want to do business with Spanish companies and promote your products, it is a genuine advantage if your sales officers speak Spanish and you have a website in Spanish. For Italy, English is sufficient.
  • If you are already doing business in Spain or Italy and are looking for new markets in Europe, find out which importers in Spain and Italy are selling squid, cuttlefish and octopus to other European countries.
  • Check Globefish’s cephalopod’s market reports. These quarterly publications are a reliable source of information to stay up to date about the situation in the global market of squid, cuttlefish and octopus.

Frozen fish fillets

Europe imports 64% of its fish fillets from developing countries at a total value of $3 billion out of the $4.7 billion total imports of fish fillets. Contrary to most of the other imported fish and seafood, the main destination for fish fillets is not in Southern Europe but North Western Europe.

Looking at Europe’s imports of fish fillets, the most important species are hake, cod, Alaska pollock, salmon and a group of species that are not defined in custom data. Most of these fish fillets are not fully processed in the country where they are produced. Salmon is produced in Chili and Argentina and Alaska Pollock is produced mainly in the US and Russia. While primary processing is done at origin, the fish is than exported to China or other re-processing locations, where the fish is defrosted and filleted before it is frozen once more and exported to the final markets.   

Exotic species such as pangasius, tuna, barramundi, grouper, tilapia, flatfishes, and Nile perch may have a lower total import value but might be a better opportunity for you if you aim to export fish fillets directly to Europe. These products are, more often, sold directly into the European wholesale market rather than going through China. We will describe the most important species here.

Some of these species are exported to Europe in considerable quantities. Pangasius fillets, for example, valued at $221 million in 2018. The main markets for pangasius are in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK. With global competition for pangasius increasing, importers in Europe may be open to source from new origins.

Europe’s tilapia fillet imports from outside Europe have been on the decline and were only valued $43 million in 2018, compared to $78 million in 2014. Tilapia has difficulty to compete with cheaper alternatives such as pangasius and Alaska pollock. The biggest markets for tilapia in Europe, which in 2018 still imported tilapia fillets at a value of about $10 million each, are the Netherlands, Spain and Germany.  

A product which still has a significant market in Europe is Nile perch. In 2018, Europe imported $138 million worth of chilled Nile perch and $61 million worth of frozen Nile perch fillets. Although the value of Nile perch fillet exports to Europe almost halved from 2014 to 2015, in 2018 they were almost back to 2014 levels.

Many other species of fish fillets also find their way to the European market. The species of fish sold as fillets that might be relevant to you include tuna, swordfish, and various reef fishes (barramundi, grouper, snapper), but the market for these products is scattered. Unlike pangasius, tilapia and Nile perch, which are largely sold in the retail market, the other species are mainly sold in Europe’s food service and wholesale business.

This study has been carried out on behalf of CBI by STIP.

Please review our market information disclaimer.

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