Louis Harkell: UnderCurrentnews
Industry experts expect the global shrimp sector to power back in 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic caused the first contraction in global imports since the financial crisis.
Global shrimp imports contracted by an estimated 3% in 2020 to 3.042 million metric tons in 2020, according to an Undercurrent News analysis of trade data supplied by the International Trade Centre (ITC), the first decline since 2009.
However, the relatively small contraction leaves the shrimp industry optimistic of a strong recovery as vaccination programs roll out. “It is shaping up to be a record year for seafood consumption,” Jim Gulkin, the founder of Bangkok, Thailand-based Siam Canadian Group, a frozen seafood supplier with of offices across Asia, told Undercurrent.
Although there was an overall drop led by China, East Asia and Spain, this was offset by strong imports in northern Europe and the US thanks to booming retail sales.
The trade gures include both warmwater shrimp and coldwater shrimp, in raw, cooked, prepared and preserved formats, and traded under the global harmonized system codes 030617, 030616, 160521 and 160529.
US imports grew 7% in 2020 to 747,000t, ITC data shows. Among other top-10 importers, France, Denmark, and the Netherlands, imports grew by 6%, 14% and 14%, to 111,000t, 97,000t, and 78,000t respectively. Italy, which suffered a strong first wave of COVID, grew imports 1% to 72,000t.
Only Spain, Europe’s largest importer, saw imports fall significantly; down by 5% to 153,000t. In the UK, imports declined 1% to 76,000t.
Elsewhere in Europe, German imports grew 13% to 67,000t; Belgian imports grew 2% to 44,200t, and Portuguese imports fell 9% to 23,500t.
“From everyone I’ve spoken with — importers or wholesalers — everyone is quite surprised by the volumes that have been reported [in trade data]. In the
Netherlands, German, Belgium, imports have been strong,” Willem van der Pijl, a shrimp industry analyst, told Undercurrent.
That imports increased in countries that implemented strict lockdowns is testament to the surge in cooking seafood at home, including shrimp, said Gulkin.
That was not mirrored in China, however, after detections of the coronavirus on imported seafood led to a drop in consumption. China, the world’s second-largest importer, directly imported 610,000t of frozen shrimp in 2020, 14% less than in 2019.
A further 80,000-100,000t of shrimp was imported by China through Vietnam in 2019, a trade that also has largely stopped. Preliminary data shows Vietnamese imports fell to just 7,000t, down from 103,000t in 2019 (though the former figure is likely an underestimate).
Japan, the world’s third-largest importer, also reported a 5% contraction in imports to 210,000t, while South Korean imports declined 1% to 76,000t.
Outside of the top-10 importers and Europe, Russian imports grew 21% last year to 57,000t. Canadian imports declined 2% to 54,000t. Imports by Chile, South America’s largest importer, declined 6% to 36,600t. Australian imports declined 2% to 28,000t.
Van der Pijl pointed to the busy summer trade in Europe when lockdowns lifted and Europeans rushed to restaurants and took holidays abroad as another reason for resilient European imports. “They [European importers] say that last summer was really good, much better than anticipated. Also for food service, everyone sold inventories they had from the rst lockdown. The summer was really exceptional.”
However, he reckons inventories are possibly higher now as a result. “They [importers] ordered quite a lot of products during summer to fill their inventories again, and I guess that inventory has not been sold, because the second and third lockdowns were quite strict. I know a couple of foodservice buyers who really believe a lot of stock is here.”
However, Gulkin reckons 2021 could unleash strong spending in foodservice in the US, the world’s largest importer, as the vaccine rollout helps life return to normal there. This could help offset possibly higher European inventories and continued weak Chinese imports.
“With that [return to normalcy], we will see people going back to restaurants in droves having been pent up at home for so long. Full stadium attendance will resume for sporting events. Concerts and festivals will resume. Travel will resume so airlines, hotels, theme parks, casinos, etcetera. will start to recover as well.
Foodservice sales in the US will experience a very strong recovery this year,” he added.
Jeff Sedacca, CEO of Sunnyvale Seafood Company, a California-based seafood importer, told Undercurrent that trade could rebound fast. “I believe we will see a signi cant increase in both supply, and demand as the pandemic situation abates. We are already seeing signs of a strong return in the foodservice segment.”
He reckons US retail can also hang on to new seafood customers. “I do not believe this is a zero-sum game at this point, with retail losing recent gains to a recovering foodservice segment. Millions of people have learned to cook and eat seafood at home, and now will continue to do so, but not at the expense of the dining out experience. Most of the recent increases at retail will be accretive to the total consumption,” he said.