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Where has all the surimi seafood gone? Consumption declines considerably in Japan.

Where Has All the Surimi Seafood Gone? Consumption Declines Considerably in Japan

It was a Japanese invention in the first place, but surimi is on a steady downward slide in Japan in both production and consumption, with a decline in the latter estimated at 20% for last year alone.

Higher prices, combined with the fact that younger consumers are turning away from seafood, accounts for the retreat, Rick Muir, vice president of American Seafoods Co., told the International Seafood Conference.

Overall Japanese production of frozen surimi has plummeted from 450,000 tons in 1987 to 175,000 last year. Production of surimi-based products, on the other hand, was about 670,000 tons last year, down from a high of over a million in 1976. Because of the Americanization of Alaska pollock, Japan must import a lot more raw surimi.

Some 3,000 plants in Japan produce a variety of steamed, broiled, fried and boiled kamaboko products from surimi, plus fish sausage, fish ham and fish burgers. Higher prices for surimi may bring production back home, after having earlier been farmed out to plants in Southeast Asia and South America.

Korean surimi usage, meanwhile, has also declined recently -- it was about 47,000 tons last year, down from a high of about 55,000 in 1990, and is projected at about 44,000 for this year. Consumption of finished products made from surimi also peaked in 1990, at about 70,000 tons. It was about 65,000 last year and is projected at 60,000 this year.

Muir didn't have any explanation for this, as he did have for the decline in Japanese consumption (higher prices; a mature market, with younger consumers turning away from seafoods) -- in fact, his text (as opposed to his charts) had consumption "rapidly increasing" in a Korean market full of young consumers, and with quality analog products becoming more important than traditional kamaboko products. Korea began to allow raw surimi imports last year, and is dickering with Russia for more pollock resources -- joint ventures with the Russians already have quotas estimated at 100,000 to 200,000 tons a year.

The United States is where sales of surimi-based products show a sharp and steady increase -- they reached about 69,000 tons in 1990, vs. 64,000 in 1989 and 53,000 in 1988. Domestic production pulled ahead of Japanese imports in 1987, and imports have declined steadily since then to a mere 5,000 tons in 1990. But here, too, the market may have peaked -- usage of raw surimi last year was estimated at approximately 32,000 tons. vs. 35,000 in 1990.

That is despite the fact that the number of surimi processors and surimi-based products is on the increase, with non-seafood identity items like surimi frankfurters and pizza tasties joining the ranks of crab and shrimp analogs that built the category. "Some believe non-seafood categories will dwarf the surimi seafood," Muir said. The U.S. government is requiring the word "imitation" to appear on packages, however, and more consumer education is essential for continued growth in the category.

Europe, too, is showing a decline in imports of finished kamaboko products: they peaked at 26,000 tons in 1990, but are believed to have slipped to 23,000 last year, and are projected at 22,000 for this year. Yet European production of raw surimi is growing, Muir said, at both sea and land-based plant, and more factories are being built to produce finished products -- they already account for about a third of the consumption.

With pollock resources diminishing, worldwide surimi consumption is also expected to decline, from about 520,000 in 1989 to 430,000 tons this year -- with the amount from pollock down from 390,000 to 260,000 tons. Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are processing sea bream into surimi as an alternative source, and will account for about 100,000, 20,000 and 7,000 tons this year, respectively. Some whiting is also being made into surimi in Argentina. [Graphs Omitted]
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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