ASMI looks at Southeast Asia potential as seafood market

Global food aid program expands with USDA purchases exceeding $22 M

Board members of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute hear reports on international marketing efforts during their All Hands On Deck meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday, Oct. 30. Photo by Margaret Bauman/The Cordova Times

In a trade war conflict that has resulted in losses for Alaska seafood suppliers in Chinese markets, Southeast Asia has emerged as an alternative for Alaska seafood marketers, participants in a seafood meeting in Anchorage were told on Oct. 30.

In its report to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s All Hands On Deck meeting, ASMI’s international marketing committee said that with a population of 641 million, increasing economic stability, and increased demand for healthy food products that Southeast Asia has great potential.

The committee cited a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service that shows U.S. food exports to Southeast Asia were $11.8 billion in 2017, up 68 percent from 2008.

Southeast Asia is showing growth in seafood processing sectors in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, in particular, has become one of the largest seafood exporters in the world, the report said. Given these changes, Alaska seafood suppliers are looking to redirect their seafood products to expanding Southeast Asia markets to mitigate financial damage incurred by recently implemented tariffs imposed on U.S. products going into Chinese markets, the report said.

Improved processing technology and capacity aside, the region requires specific technical assistance in dealing with Alaska seafood products, which have unique qualities that differ from farmed and tropical seafood, the report notes.

With areas of Southeast Asia have become more urbanized, with a growing middles class and influx of expatriates, plus a booming tourism industry, market conditions are more favorable for domestic consumption of Alaska seafood products in both retail and foodservice sectors, the report said.

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Also noted was that many Alaska seafood products of appeal to traditional Japanese preferences are now identified as a growing market for Alaska species losing market share in Japan and China, and for other under-utilized Alaska species, the report said.

These include salmon, Pollock, herring and cod roe, flatfish, surimi seafood, black cod, yellowfin sole and Geoduck clams.

ASMI’s annual All Hands On Deck meeting in Anchorage also includes reports on seafood technology, sustainability, global food aid and domestic marketing.

Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, director of ASMI’s Global Food Aid program, told the gathering that in 2018 U.S. Department of Agriculture purchases of wild Alaska salmon fillet portions, canned pink salmon, Alaska Pollock fish sticks, block and fillet portions for food and nutrition programs came to over $22 million.

“Through direct messaging and marketing, 87,000 individuals participating in the food distribution program on Indian reservations are now receiving traditional wild Alaska salmon fillets, Schactler said. Some 46 million people turn to food assistance programs annually for extra support, he said.

The new wild Alaska Pollock fillet portions align better with tastes and choice of modern program recipients than traditional shelf stable canned products, he said.

In addition, the National School Lunch Program reaches over 13 million children. The addition of wild Alaska Pollock fish sticks to the school lunch program has now led to their inclusion into The Emergency Food Assistance Program as a permanent option for food banks beginning in 2019, he said. Currently over 8 million families have access to meals including this product at local food banks and pantries nationwide, he said.

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