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China’s growing appetite for salmon

On global seafood markets, China reigns supreme. It’s already the world’s biggest importer of seafood, and now China’s ravenous appetite is turning towards that old favourite: salmon. 

Chinese salmon imports on the increase

China’s demand for salmon has grown across the last decade and – even after a clash with Norway that resulted in the Scandinavian country’s produce banned from Chinese export - and is growing further still.

Individual levels can show how more Chinese consumers are eating salmon.

Take a look at Scotland’s China-bound salmon exports. In 2009, just 5 tons of Atlantic salmon was shipped to China from Scottish producers. Flash forward to 2013, and that figure has risen to 9,709 tons – an colossal increase of 194,080%.
Individual provinces from chief salmon supplying countries are also exporting more. Salmon farmers in the Los Lagos region of Chile, China’s biggest supplier of Atlantic salmon, has seen a 73.9% rise in their exports on the Chinese market. The story is much the same throughout the world.

Chile has bumped up its export levels, experiencing a 72% year-on-year rise in Chinese salmon exports between January-July 2016. These exports came to a total of 31,000 tons.

Norway, the previous biggest exporter of salmon to China prior to 2010, experienced a major drop in export volumes after a half-decade long diplomatic tussle. Thankfully, things are starting to look up for the Scandinavian nation. The tail end of 2016 saw a re-normalisation of relations between the two states, reopening Chinese ports to Norwegian salmon. Before their dispute Norway accounted for 90% of all salmon on the Chinese seafood market. 

Relations between Norway and China are back to normal, suggesting export levels could increase exponentially in 2017 and beyond. The Norwegian Seafood Council has assigned $1.15 million dollars for marketing throughout China this year – around 10 times its usual China-focussed marketing budget.

Chinese annual import volumes come to around 80,000 tons annually. Much of this total is Atlantic salmon, while other varieties, such as pink, chum, masu, Chinook and coho, make up the remainder.

China imports millions of dollars’ worth of salmon annually

Annual imports of salmon in China total $300 million – a huge figure, which means its drive to source quality salmon products is truly international. As well as from Scottish and Chilean producers, China’s stocks of salmon come from Norway, Canada, the US, and potentially Russia too.

After Norway's exports dropped off, Chile became the largest individual supplier, in value terms, shipping produce worth $96.5 million to China in 2016. It should be pointed out that Chilean seafood prices rose 6% at the end of last year, due to algae bloom restricting supply, which might be behind this figure. Chile does enjoy a free trade agreement with China, so its products are not subject to import tariffs - a boon for buyers and exporters alike.

Norway, despite its re-establishing of trade norms with China, has witnessed a quite a large drop in export volumes. 2016’s Norwegian salmon exports totalled just $21.4 million – roughly a third of pre-2010 values. 
UK-based producers sent salmon exports worth $71.8 million to China in 2016, making the country China’s second largest supplier of salmon.

Russia could become a new seafood partner for China, as a new free-trade deal for Russian companies has been put in place in China’s Harbin city. Over 500,000 tons of pink fish, including salmon, is caught by Russian companies annually. Harbin’s trade agreement lowers import tariffs on Russian seafood, opening the gates for Russian salmon going forward.

Hotels, restaurants driving Chinese salmon import boom

80% of all salmon eaten in China is consumed at hotels, restaurants and other commercial dining establishments. Salmon is still seen as a premium product in China, meaning hotel chains and foodservice companies are the big buyers.

Why? Most salmon supplied to China is sourced from countries with strong labelling and food safety standards. Labelling and import documents revealing high hygiene standards and country of origins are marks of quality on the Chinese import market and an enticing prospect for HORECA sector members.

Still, salmon is becoming more accessible to Chinese consumers. Norwegian produce is now being sold online via Alibaba, one of the world’s biggest B2B internet marketplaces, affording distributors the scope to sell greater volumes to consumers, rather than almost exlusively to hotrels or restaurants. E-commerce is changing the way China buys seafood so more salmon could end up on plates across the country in the very near future.

Meet China’s salmon buyers at World Seafood Shanghai (SIFSE) 

There is only one place to meet the Chinese salmon buyers, distributors and importers that matter: World Seafood Shanghai (SIFSE)

Running from 19-21 August at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre, World Seafood Shanghai (SIFSE) is a specialised fish and seafood exhibition aimed at meeting local demand and closing supply gaps. 31,441 visitors from over 39 countries attended last year’s show – all looking to secure supplies and boost their sales.

Grow your business leads in the world’s biggest seafood market at 2017’s event. Contact us today to book a prime slot, or to learn more about how your business can take part.


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26-28 August, 2022


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