Small is better, shrimp sellers say, as jumbo sizes are in short supply.
New York Seafood Show panel advises retailers to prepare customers for `up-value' on `downscale.' With wide price differentials on counts, a pound of shrimp is still a pound of shrimp.
Foodservice operators and retailers had better learn to do more with less when it comes to shrimp. Not that anybody's predicting a shortage in volume, mind you. It's just that the large size varieties that restaurants and supermarkets like to feature are no longer in abundance. There's plenty of medium and small size species available, though.
That was the consensus reached by a panel of shrimp and seafood experts convened at the New York Seafood Show during the last week of October. "You have to get used to it," warned Noel Blackman, president of the Shore Group, a major New Jersey-based importer. "You should start to look for alternate sizes and make the change now."
And don't expect to pay less for shrimp at the wholesale level, no matter what the size. "The price today is undervalued and will go up," predicted James Ferrell of Kennedy & Ferrell, a Louisiana-based broker. "Gulf of Mexico (landings) have probably been the worst in the last 12 to 14 years. However, imports are way up. . .And holdings were down to 14 million pounds in September, the lowest in five years. But the real question is what's being held. . ."
Not a lot of premium jumbo sizes, that's safe to say. "We just don't think the big shrimps are going to be available," said Ferrell. "Holdings of peeled shrimps seem to be on either side of the spectrum." Although overall imports are up over last year, peeled is down to 16.5 million pounds.
On the bright side, he forecast that 31/35 count farm-raised products will be readily available. However, the strength of the Japanese yen will likely lure a good quantity of China whites away from the U.S. market. Much of those species currently moving in North America were pre-sold up to a year ago.
One benefit of the devalued U.S. dollar may be relative stability in global shrimp prices. Noel Blackman explained: "Traditionally the Japanese made the market and have taken positions on shrimp. But with the dollar the way it is, they have for the most part been buying to meet their own consumption needs."
The Shore Group executive underscored the fact that shrimp remains a commodity whose price is subject to the ups and downs of supply and demand. And demand last year in the world's leading three markets was almost 1.3 billion pounds, or 642,500 tons. The U.S. consumes about 635 million pounds annually, the Japanese eat 400 million, and the Europeans another 250 million pounds.
Panelist Robin Rackowe, an international aquaculture and shrimp authority, pegged 1987 global-wide exports at 700,000 tons of product weight worth $4.5 billion. He reckoned that landings were roughly 2 million tons. Of that amount, cold water shrimp represented 200,000 tons caught mainly in the Northern hemisphere. Another 300,000 tons were raised by aquaculture techniques, largely in the tropics. The remaining 1.5 million tons were harvested by shrimp boats, trawlers and other methods.
While Blackman made the point that the world's oceans are already at their maximum sustainable yields of shrimp, Rackowe advised that many old catching vessels may soon be out of service if repairs and modernization are not forthcoming. And the estimated cost to replace and outfit the world's aging fleets runs from $35 to $53 billion over a 10 to 15 year period. Meanwhile, 75,000 operational vessels are the minimum required to maintain a global catch of 1 to 1.5 million tons.
It's clear that resources will have to be found elsewhere if increasing demand is to be met. "Any growth in the world's supply is going to have to come from farm operations, because the boats have reached their maximum levels," Rackowe advised.
Indeed, shrimp farming is already a growth industry in more ways than one. From 1982-86, according to the National (U.S.) Marine Fisheries Service, aquaculture's output has gone up almost four-fold from about 78,000 tons to just over 300,000 tons. By the year 2000 it is estimated that such production could rise to 800,000 tons.
Although James Ferrell specializes in selling frozen shrimp procured from Louisiana's wild harvests, he did not discount aquaculture's moderating influence in a seesaw industry: "In the years ahead it should take a lot of the roller coaster ride out of the shrimp market. But farm-raising just doesn't produce the big shrimp, which has come up very short this year."
Blackman urged restaurateurs and retailers to gear their merchandising programs in a way that will educate consumers about the economies of buying smaller sizes. Noting that 15-count Ecuadorian shrimp was currently selling at $9.50 per pound while 16/20-counts were fetching $8.30, he observed: "Do you really believe 16/20s are worth $1.20 less a pound? It's ridiculous. If I were to thaw out a block of shrimp, very few people would be able to see the difference. Still, it affords you and your customer better value as you can give them another shrimp or two."
Noting that the price differential between 26/30s and 21/25s was $2.05, Blackman suggested that wise buyers will select the former count not only to cut costs, but also to take advantage of constant supplies.
"If I'm eating in a restaurant, I couldn't care less if you gave me a whole bunch of 31/35s," he said. "...It's like lobster. Does it really matter if you eat two one-pound lobsters, or eat one two-pound lobster? Either way, it adds up to two pounds."
The seafood importer, who suggested that most foodservice operators tend to overcook shrimp, offered one more reason why smaller sizes should be menued--taste. "They are normally sweeter and more tender than big ones."