Last year’s positive demand trend for canned tuna continued during the first quarter of 2019, with increased imports of higher value products in the United States of America and Europe. Demand for non-canned tuna, particularly frozen fillet, is enjoying increasing sales opportunities worldwide at premium prices.
Raw Material Supply
The supply situation of frozen skipjack remained stable with good catch levels in the Western and Central Pacific during April–June 2019. Thai tuna packers were well supplied during the first half of the year along with carried overstocks from 2018. Total imports of frozen tuna in Thailand during January–March declined by 19 percent to 162 300 tonnes, with reduced procurement of skipjack (-18.3 percent) and yellowfin tuna (-29 percent) compared with the same period of last year. Subsequently, skipjack prices started to weaken again starting in April and reached USD 1 050 per tonne in mid-July. Moderate catches in the Indian Ocean facilitated regular transhipment to tuna packers worldwide.
However, canneries in the Eastern Pacific were rather poorly supplied until April, as catches were slow to moderate until then. situation started to improve in May. For raw materials, packers in Ecuador had to depend on the Western Pacific landings and also on transhipment from the Indian Ocean. During the first quarter of 2019, Ecuador imported 13 400 tonnes of raw material with a 50/50 share of skipjack and yellowfin tuna in this procurement.
Catches in the Atlantic Ocean were slow to moderate during this period. European packers had to rely on imports of raw tuna and cooked loins. Raw frozen tuna imports in Spain were 15 percent higher at 42 000 tonnes during the review period, along with an equal quantity of imports of cooked loins for reprocessing.
Fresh and frozen tuna market (non-canned)
Quantitative global trade for non-canned tuna is relatively small in comparison with the canned/processed tuna, including cooked loins. However, in recent years, consumer demand for fresh and frozen tuna, particularly fillets, has increased considerably in the same market areas where canned tuna has been an established product for decades. Although much more expensive than canned/pouched products, fresh and frozen tuna fillets/loins and steaks seem to have emerged as an alternative tuna item to customary canned tuna consumers.
During January–March 2019, an estimated 13 000–15 000 tonnes of fresh tuna and 35 000–36 000 tonnes of frozen tuna fillet (estimated live weight of 100 000 tonnes) entered the international trade.
United States of America
Positive market trend attracted more supplies of sashimi and non-sashimi grade tuna from global sources in the US market. Consumption improved during the 2019 Lent, particularly in the West Coast, where the weather conditions were favourable. Summer demand is likely to be much higher across the country. Imports of both fresh and frozen tuna increased in the US market during the first quarter of 2019, which endorses the market’s positive demand trend.
Sashimi tuna consumption in Japan normally improves during the winter months. But this year, imports of both whole fish and fillets declined during January–March and total tuna imports hit a record low at 47 500 tonnes, some 6.3 percent lower than during the same period in 2018. Consumption only improved during the April/May Spring festival period.
The cheaper Atlantic salmon has progressively taken away the share of fresh tuna in Japan’s domestic sashimi trade. Fresh salmon imports were stable during this period at 4 700 tonnes (+1.4 percent), while fresh tuna imports were only 2 800 tonnes.
European Union (Member Organization)
Traditionally, non-canned tuna was popular in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Frozen fillet, which has longer shelf life, is preferred over fresh whole tuna. Demand for tuna fillet is also on the rise in the Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom, Belgium and in other EU28 markets. During the review period, air-flown fresh tuna imports in the EU28 market were 16.6 percent lower at 2 600 tonnes. However, frozen fillet imports increased by 21.4 percent to 8 900 tonnes, mainly sourced in Asia and Latin America.
Frozen fillet demand remained strong in the Russian Federation, where imports increased by 42 percent to almost 1 000 tonnes. Imports were higher in Norway, but softened in the Swiss market. In Asia, China imported more fresh bluefin tuna (+47 percent at 100 tonnes) and yellowfin tuna (+76 percent at 50 tonnes) for the restaurant trade. Imports of sashimi grade tuna and fillet also increased in southeast Asian markets, namely the Republic of Korea, Hong Kong SAR, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.
Canned tuna trade
This trade maintained the positive curves of 2018 throughout the first quarter of 2019. Cheaper skipjack prices helped to increase sales worldwide.
Thailand increased exports in most markets in the Middle East. However, exports faltered slightly to its top market, the United States of America. Thai exports of canned tuna increased to Chile and Peru. For Ecuador, exports to its top market in the EU28 increased by 26.5 percent to 33 000 tonnes, during the first quarter of 2019 compared with the same period in 2018, and one third of these were cooked loins.
Spanish exports, which are mostly targeted to intra-EU28 markets, increased sales to Italy, France, Austria, Romania, Czech Republic and Poland, but declined to Portugal, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
There were mixed trends in the world trade of canned/processed tuna during the first quarter of 2019. US imports declined slightly for ‘tuna in brine’ and cooked loins. On the other hand, the positive demand trend for higher value processed tuna continued in the country. The EU28 imported more cooked loins. Canned tuna demand was strong throughout the Middle East, but remained lacklustre in East Asia.
North and South America
The slight decline in US imports of canned tuna (-5.6 percent) could be attributed to lower imports of cooked loins and old-fashioned canned ‘tuna in brine’. Conversely, imports of light meat and white meat tuna in-pouch, incups and other convenient packs increased by 18 percent, confirming consumers preference for better quality products. Among the top exporters to this market, supplies declined from Thailand, but increased from Ecuador and Viet Nam. After a decline in 2018, Canadian imports increased by 21 percent to 7 200 tonnes in the first quarter of 2019, with higher supplies from Thailand, the Philippines and also higher value tuna imports from Italy.
In Latin America, canned tuna imports declined in Colombia (-12.7 percent, 9 300 tonnes), Argentina (-23 percent, 6 300 tonnes) and Brazil (-69 percent, 2 100 tonnes), but increased in Chile (+49 percent, 4 100 tonnes) and Peru (+127 percent, 4 700 tonnes), affecting exports from Ecuador.
European Union (Member Organization)
The consumption pattern of canned/prepared tuna in the EU28 was positive, as imports of cooked loins for reprocessing, as well as canned/ pouched tuna for direct consumption, increased during the first quarter of 2019, compared with the same period in 2018. Imports of cooked loin imports were significantly high at 66 000 tonnes (+26.4 percent), with increased procurement by Spain, France and Portugal, but drops in Italy (-8.8 percent). Soft prices of skipjack obviously contributed to this development, as some 73 percent of skipjack imports were cooked loin.
Extra-EU28 imports during the review period increased by 12.4 percent to 143 700 tonnes, in which 45 percent were cooked loins (+25.4 percent, 64 200 tonnes), mainly supplied by China, Ecuador, Indonesia, Viet Nam and Papua New Guinea. Supplies of canned tuna for direct consumption from non-EU28 sources also increased by 3.8 percent to about 80 000 tonnes.
Imports increased in the Russian Federation (+85 percent, 1 400 tonnes) and in Norway (+10 percent, 840 tonnes), but the Swiss market remained soft (-23 percent, 2 000 tonnes).
Asia/Pacific & other Markets
Canned tuna imports were stagnant in Japan, as domestic production increased, supported by the cheaper raw material prices. It is also interesting to observe the ‘poor‘ demand pattern for canned tuna in many East Asian markets where fresh seafood is preferred. During the January–March 2019 low-priced period, canned tuna imports declined in Hong Kong SAR, Malaysia, Singapore and some other regional markets.
Since canned tuna is popular in the Middle East, cheaper import prices induced higher demand in most of the large and small markets in that region (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria and others).
The often fluctuating raw material price remains a major issue in the canned tuna trade. During the first half of 2019, the price strengthening of frozen skipjack lasted only three months between February and April and started to weaken starting in May (USD 1 300 per tonne), sliding further to USD 1 050 per tonne in July (52 percent decline in three months) when FAD fishing closure started in the Western and Central Pacific fishing grounds. The average price for frozen skipjack between January and July was 17 percent lower than the corresponding period in 2018. Meanwhile, fuel prices, which were the major cost component in fishing, have started to move up due to the political tension in the Middle East, the main fuel supplying region.
The three-month FAD fishing closure in the Western and Central Pacific started on 1 July 2019. Subsequently, tuna landings have slowed down to a moderate level. As of July, the raw material inventories in Thailand were close to full capacity and there were still backlogs of carriers at Bangkok Port. Hence, the impact of low catches on prices has yet to happen. Price may increase with lower catches during the FAD closure period.
Fishing in the Eastern Pacific remains good and raw material inventories at local canneries remain high. There is a large number of tuna vessels waiting in port to unload, but there has been a reduction in the number of carriers arriving from the Indian Ocean and the Western and Central Pacific. Skipjack prices have fallen slightly, while yellowfin tuna prices remain stable. The first two-month IATTC ‘veda’ will commence on 29 July. Many vessels are likely to choose this ‘veda’ as market conditions are very poor at present.
As of July 2019, catches in the Indian Ocean remain low and raw material inventories at canneries in that region are moderate. Skipjack prices continue to weaken but yellowfin tuna prices are stable. Some vessels remain at port due to the poor fishing and low prices. Catch rates in the Atlantic Ocean remain moderate, while raw material inventories at local canneries have improved slightly to lowto-moderate.
Skipjack and yellowfin tuna prices in Spain have decreased, while the market price for cooked, double cleaned yellowfin tuna loins remains steady. Consumer demand for canned tuna has been weak this summer in the western markets except for higher value products. However, lower raw material prices may lead to lower retail prices and encourage supermarket promotions of canned tuna. The import trends in the large Middle East market is likely to continue for the rest of the year.