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Frozen seafood in China: Big opportunities in a growing market

The future for frozen seafood looks good. Globally, the market is expected to be worth over $60 billion by 2020. How does China factor into this worldwide growth? With imports more than doubling from 2012’s $2.83 billion to $7.2 billion in 2014, it is a major, growing consumer of frozen fish and other seafood products.

China is already the world’s largest seafood importer and levels are set to rise to $20 billion annually by the next decade, thanks to evolving consumer habits. The frozen sector accounts for around 10% of domestic demand – and local producers simply can’t keep up. 

Frozen Seafood in China

Shifting Chinese consumption habits and increasingly busy, urban lifestyles are playing a big hand in making China’s frozen seafood market one of the world’s most appealing. A cursory glance at import values alone reveals a voracious appetite for chilled or frozen offerings.

Pollock is one of, if not the, most popular imported species according to trade data. Roughly $883 million worth of frozen Alaskan pollock reaches Chinese shores each year. Elsewhere, cuttlefish and squid shipments amount to $445 million annually, with cod also seeing the same sector. 

High-end product varieties, such as king crab and lobster, are also seeing import values rise. A taste for more gourmet varieties is present, especially in more urban areas, and the import stats back this up. Frozen crab exports to the Chinese market rack up $170 million in revenues annually. China also imports roughly half a billion dollars’ worth of lobster, including rock and homarus species, each year.

If the pure cold cash being hurled around by China, with regards to frozen fish and seafood, does not inspire you to check out the market, maybe government decisions will. Thanks to food safety fears and domestic undersupply, China has slashed import tariffs on a number of highly popular seafood products which overlap with the frozen sector. 

Reduced import tariffs points toward higher demand as internal prices drop. Lower prices means more accessible fish and the Chinese are already massive seafood eaters.

Ready-to-eat frozen meals is another sub-sector to explore. According to research firm Mintel’s head in China, Matthew Crabbe, this sector will grow at a CAGR of 9.5% until 2020, with fish singled out as a potentially high value category. Mr Crabbe has noted several areas where demand is skyrocketing:

• Breakfast meals – 42% growth predicted between 2016-2020
• Low calorie/healthy options – 39% growth predicted between 2016-2020
• On-the-go meals – 31% growth predicted between 2016-2020
• Kids’ meals – 28% growth predicted between 2016-2020

The Chinese frozen seafood market has plenty of entry points. Societal changes in the country are also playing a role in establishing the popularity of refrigerated products.

Changing lifestyles reflect shakeups in China’s frozen seafood sector

Despite the repealing of the nation’s one-child policy, Chinese households are retaining smaller family units – partly due to the traditional high participation rate of women in the workforce. Many people are finding they simply do not have the time to travel to fresh fish markets and preparing their purchases at home. Frozen options present cost effectiveness and convenience – two fundamental aspects of Chinese lifestyles.

Likewise, e-commerce is driving up demand for readily available options. Chinese shoppers are turning to the internet to purchase food, with many domestic frozen seafood producers, including China Starfish, re-tooling their distribution networks to match online food shopping habits. Foreign firms need to act fast to capitalise on this trend, before native companies snap up major market shares.

Explore your options at World Seafood Shanghai (SIFSE)

To see the high demand for frozen fish seafood for in China for yourself, you need to be attending World Seafood Shanghai (SISFE). Since 2006, the show has been bringing together producers with domestic buyers, retailers, importers, and the Chinese seafood figures who count.

Do not miss out on putting your products in front of a captive, dedicated audience. Get in touch now to learn more about World Seafood Shanghai, or to book your stand at China’s leading fish and seafood exhibition.


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