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Rising tide, and higher prices, lift spirits for Dutch and Belgian seafood sellers: positive outlook for 2011 is especially strong among shrimp marketers, even as a lingering recession continues to bog down EU's southern tier and other segments of the Euro Zone.

While still carefully maneuvering through the turbulent wake of a financial crisis that continues to disproportionately impact southern Europe, the surf was definitely up for many importers and marketers of marine products in Benelux countries last year. Indeed, this magazine's annual autumn survey of a cross-section of companies in the frozen sector revealed a fairly full net of optimism regarding current conditions and prospects for the near-term future.

Among positive developments in 2010 was a return to near normalcy in credit insurance availability to worthy customers. This was all too often not the case in 2009, as unsecured financial risk preempted a number of what would have otherwise been routine transactions.

"I think 2010 will go down as our best year ever," Ruud van Zuidam, managing director of Den Haag, Holland-headquartered Fishermans Choice, told Quick Frozen Foods International (QFFI) in November. "Shrimp raw materials have been scarce because of high demand in the United States, brought on by the the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Importers with reliable sources of supply in Asia have had an advantage over incidental buyers." Fishermans Choice, which specializes in selling Asian-sourced value-added shrimp products ranging from Big Shrimp in 500-gram packs to BBQ Gourmet Tapas, Dim Sum Shrimpers, breaded Butterfly and Torpedo Shrimps, has moved full speed ahead in launching a sustainable retail range under the Super Choice label in 2010.

"For about eight years prices at the end user-level had been weak or down. That changed this year, as prices have gone up," stated Van Zuidam. "Having said that, we have good relationships with our Asian partners and get good deals from them which are shared with our retail and foodservice clients."

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Findus Fish Dishes Will Cost More

While Findus France announced that climbing costs for raw materials will force a rise in price for its frozen fish range by as much as 15% in early 2011, the European Commission (EC) in Brussels somehow believes that price increases for certain frozen fish--including hake, mackerel, swordfish and Illex Argentine squid--should be limited to two percent.

Furthermore, its annual proposal on reference prices suggests reductions in fresh white fish prices from one to three percent, along with a two percent decrease for yellowfin tuna.

Wholesale prices for some shrimp species and sizes, according to reliable sources, were up by as much as 35% to 40% in 2010, with wild-caught Black Tigers (Penaeus monodon) being especially expensive. However, it was not only the cost of shrimp that climbed.

"It takes more money to buy almost all fish and seafood raw materials now. Quotations for scallops are rising dramatically, as landings have been lower," commented Ignance Soenen of Waregem, Belgium-headquartered Galana Frozen Food.

Chris Meskens of Oostende, Belgium-based Morubel NV concurred. "Prices are rising, but customers still want to pay less. Of course, this is no longer possible," she said.

Morubel, a unit of Zoutkamp, Holland-headquartered Heiploeg NV, produces virtually all of the group's frozen seafood lines. Among retail items recently introduced in Carrefour stores under the Heiploeg label are Caribbean Seabob Shrimp with sun-dried tomatoes and rosemary, and Marine Stewardship Council-certified Mini Coquilles (scallops) marinated in Thai ginger and lemongrass, distributed respectively in 250-gram packs.

"We have three or four new products, including Scallops in Truffle Sauce, ready for launch at Albert Heijn stores in the Netherlands during the year-end holiday season," Ms. Meskens told Quick Frozen Foods International.

As availability of shrimp from Asia tightened last year, in part due to rising demand from the USA and other countries, the Heiploeg Group was fortunate to have a steady supply of Caribbean Seabob (Xiphopenaeus kroyeri) to utilize in production of value-added marinated shrimp dishes and other products.

"Seabob are caught by our own vessels in Suriname and Guyana," said Ms. Meskens. "We have dockside facilities in both countries to process catches immediately upon landing. They are equipped with automatic peeling machines, which guarantee rapid shrimp peeling under very strict hygienic conditions." Tuna Toro Steaks from Culimer

Rotterdam, Holland-headquartered Culimer BV recently introduced super-frozen tuna toro Steaks, which are constantly maintained at -60 [degrees] C throughout the supply chain. Tuna toro, also known as fatty tuna, is sourced from the belly of the fish and is highly valued as a sushi ingredient. Distribution is in one-kilogram bags containing pieces ranging from 60 to 200 grams.

"This product is not only suitable for consumption in raw form, but is increasingly being utilized by discerning seafood chefs as a wild steak item especially appropriate for autumn and winter menus," said Maarten van Geest, communications manager. "Since the belly deteriorates more quickly than other parts of tuna, storing it at -60 [degress] C allows chefs to serve stable fresh For the Culimer Team, No Matter the Season Customer Satisfaction is Reason for Pleasing quality tuna whenever they like." Culimer, which offers more than 25 different tuna items available in regular, smoked and super-frozen forms, is working toward achieving higher levels of sustainable tuna fisheries in partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), pointed out Van Geest.

"Collaboration has been expanded to include partnerships along supply lines in the Coral Triangle region, based on the promotion of bycatch best practices and utilization of market-based incentives to promote more responsibly-caught tuna," said Dr. Lida Pet-Soede, WWF's leader of the Coral Triangle program.

Super-freezing at -60[degrees] C allows distributors to maintain the fresh quality of tuna until the moment it is consumed. As this story was being written, Culimer had nearly completed production of a video which will offer end-users practical, step-by-step advice on how to properly defrost super-frozen tuna. By the time you read this, it will be available for viewing at the company's website: www.culimer.com.

Vichiunai Increases Capacity

Rob Schreur, sales and marketing director of Brugge, Belgium-based Vichiunai Europe, reported that business continues to grow for the surimi seafood specialist.

As a unit of the Kaunas, Lithuania-headquartered Viciunai Group, the company offers an extensive line of frozen and chilled products that goes far beyond surimi. Indeed, its offerings range from breaded and battered fish sticks, herring, salmon and seafood salads, to pizza, pancakes and much more.

"This year has been very busy for us, as we have created new sales teams in Spain, Italy and Germany, while further boosting efforts in the United Kingdom with a four-person team on the job there," said Schreur.

But perhaps the biggest news in 2010 was Vichiunai's purchase of a surimi processing plant in Spain, adding 20,000 tons to the group's production capacity. Surimi and other value-added products are also manufactured at state-of-the-art factories in Lithuania, Russia and Estonia. Total capacity now exceeds 160,000 tons per annum.

"Spain is a major market for us, and our strategy is to be as close to important markets as possible," remarked Schreur. "We have now in place a Vichiunai Iberia organization that is selling not only surimi, but other products as well." Despite a year in which the cost of raw materials required to make surimi--from Alaska pollock and other fish to food coloring and flavoring--rose pretty much across the board, Vichiunai managed to hold the line on price increases.

As for 2011, while the sales and marketing manager preferred not to speculate, he did go on record with this comment: "Let's just say that prices probably will not go down." Competition on the European surimi scene, which has historically been fierce, is not expected to soften anytime soon. Neither is Vichiunai, which is fighting especially hard to win new business in the retail sector as well as among foodservice and industrial segments.

"We are pleased to have provided a private label range of MSC-certifled products to Delhaize stores in Belgium," said Schreur.

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Marine Harvest Posts Solid Returns

On the salmon front, prices were described as "rather strong" by Dag Cours, director of product development for Brugge, Belgium-based Marine Harvest VAP Europe. In fact, they have climbed for the past three years, registering an uptick of 16% from the first quarter of 2009 to the same period last year--a period when global supply contracted by seven percent.

Marine Harvest's Oslo, Norway-headquartered parent company reported an 18.9% return on capital employed during the third quarter of 2010.

Cours said that production of farmed salmon in Chile is likely to improve in 2011. Last year's 80,000-ton crop was less than one-fourth the 350,000 tons harvested in 2008, prior to the infectious salmon anemia (ISA) outbreak which severely curtailed output.

While Marine Harvest VAP Europe launched fewer new products than usual in 2010, most of those that entered the market proved to be successful. Its wide assortment of private label and co-packed branded offerings exceeds 1,000 items made from more than 50 species of fish. Value-added products range from natural salmon fillets and coated cod to numerous ready meals.

"We cater to customers who are very demanding, and who know that bringing out new products is always risky," commented the director of product development. "That is why before we develop something new the concept must score at least seven on a scale of 10 that carefully weighs numerous factors, and takes into account trends such as natural and healthy eating, convenience, savory flavor and sustainability." Having said that, he listed a number of relatively new launches that have fared well, including Tuna and Salmon Carpaccio, Sashimi of Salmon, and Salmon Roast.

Among items presently in final stages of development, and scheduled for rollout later in 2011, are Salmon Bellevue and an assortment of marinated Cod Steaks.

"Our outlook for the new year is quite positive. Consumption of fish in general and salmon in particular should continue to rise," concluded Cours.

SIMO Fish Toppings, Ingredients To be Showcased at MDD Expo

Merzig, Germany-based SIMO Fishprocessing, a supplier of precision-cut cubes, strips, chips and flakes of tuna, salmon and white fish, will be exhibiting in Hall 3, Stand A43, during the MDD Expo in Paris March 29 and 30.

Its products are available in raw, traditionally cooked, smoked and hot smoked form. IQF tuna and salmon flakes, ideal for use as pizza toppings or sandwich tilling, can be provided out of oil or brine in various sizes and shapes. Furthermore, humidity levels can be adapted to meet specific customer production processes, and spices or seasonings can be added as desired.

For more information, visit the company's website, www.simo.de, or call +49 (0) 6861/91211-0.

RELATED ARTICLE: For the Culimer Team, no matter the season customer satisfaction is reason for pleasing.

As Rotterdam, Holland-based Culimer rang in 2011 with a colorful seasonal pictorial New Year greeting card sent to valued clients and friends around the globe, the holiday message of good cheer was clear: the Ibro Mar Holding company's wide assortment of quality fresh-frozen fish and seafood products is available all year long.

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"Whether it is winter, spring, summer or fall, our offices from Europe to the Middle East and Asia are always ready to serve the needs of customers," said Maarten van Geest, the company's communications manager. "We are able to deliver anytime, anywhere." Culimer's product range runs the gamut from fresh-frozen tuna saku and tuna toro, to king crab, snow crab, swordfish, butterfish, kunsei seafood products, wild-caught and farm-raised shrimp. Recently it introduced a range of GLOBALG.A.P.-certified shrimp produced under strict Good Aquacultural Practices procedures.

The seafood supplier's offices are much more than just buying and selling arms, noted Van Geest. Indeed, its operation in Ho Chi Minh City has worked very closely with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to organize and implement WWF-supported circle hook usage (which reduces sea turtle mortality) within Vietnamese long line tuna fisheries. Furthermore, it has eagerly cooperated to deploy observers aboard boats and provide comprehensive training in bycatch best practice procedures among fishermen.

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RELATED ARTICLE: Thailand regarded as 'Norway of shrimp'; Thai union frozen sales up 24.5% in 2010.

Export prices for shrimp and tuna are beginning to stabilize after a period of volatility, according to Thai Union Frozen Products (TUF).

The company, which is one of the world's largest frozen shrimp and tuna players, announced on November 8 that prices for both key raw materials are leveling out. "With respect to domestic prices, the price of white shrimp--60 count per kilo--started to stabilize at a high level during the [third] quarter," a spokesman stated.

TUF's shrimp sales in dollar value expanded 24.5% year-on-year in the quarter to $130.6 million (93.9 million euros).

"Shrimp sales at our US subsidiaries were higher than those of last year, but exports from our Thai plants grew merely 5.9% year-on-year, primarily due to lower margins as a result of persistently high local raw material prices since early this year," said the spokesman. The United States market accounted for around 75% of total shrimp sales.

Overall, the average price was THB 127 (3.10 euros, or $4.30) per kilo for the third quarter of 2010, compared with THB 116 (2.80 euros, or $3.90) per kilo in the second quarter of 2010. Strong demand in the market, coupled with a tight supply situation in Thailand and around the world, has been keeping the local raw material prices at a higher than normal level during the period.

Rabobank analyst Gorjan Nikolik had already noted that the Thai shrimp industry generally had a new dynamic: "This has basically become a very consolidated group of suppliers now--Thailand controls a very large amount of the US market, and now a very large amount of the European market--it's basically becoming like the Norway of shrimp." But tuna sales for TUF dropped over the third quarter, due to falling raw material prices from a peak seen in June. However, the company believes that this should also pick up and stabilize.

"As the raw material prices have been stabilizing since October, sales are expected to improve soon," a TUF spokesman stated.

The average price of frozen skipjack tuna [Bangkok landings] in the third quarter of 2010 was $1,367 (982.8 euros) per metric ton, up three percent from a year earlier. But that represented a 28.6% drop over barely three months, from a recent peak in June of $1,705 (1,226 euros) to $1,215 (873.5 euros) in September.

By JOHN M. SAULNIER

QFFI Chief Editor & Publisher
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Title Annotation:REPORT from the BENELUX
Author:Saulnier, John M.
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Jan 1, 2011
Words:2401
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