Is Vietnamese pangasius able to fill a gap in the European whitefish market?
Europe has always been very demanding when it comes to food safety standards. European food safety standards are strict, with food hygiene-related rules covering all stages of production, processing, distribution and placing on the market for all food intended for human consumption.
On the other hand, world trade has changed when the United States and Western countries imposed restrictions on many economic sectors of Russia, including fishery industry.
Russia’s white fish products, including cod and pollock, are under pressure to receive sanctions from the European Union (EU), although this is one of the main imports of the countries in the bloc.
According to experts, compared to the United States, the EU seafood market is more dependent on white fish products imported from Russia and sanctions may change the export and import directions of whitefish in the near future.
Given the EU’s demand for whitefish, finding alternative sources with importers will be difficult once a tax or embargo is imposed on Russia. However, many experts believe that the Vietnamese pangasius could become such an alternative to the Russian whitefish.
At least, pangasius from Vietnam has the opportunity to increase export volume to the European market and pangasius producers seem to be taking advantage of this situation.
While Vietnam’s pangasius export to the EU experienced a significant decline after record heights in 2010, it showed a remarkable comeback last year, driven by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and sanctions imposed on Russia’s economy.
Although in the first four months of 2023, according to Fish Information & Services, pangasius exports to the EU showed a decrease compared to the same period in 2022, it still saw positive progress compared to previous years.
In addition, new sanction-burdened reality has the domino effect in many related markets, and the opportunity to expand market share with Vietnamese pangasius enterprises is present not only in the EU but also in Korea, Japan….
Buyers often want proof of sustainability
However, experts from the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) believe that the current situation can be an opportunity for Vietnam’s pangasius but also a challenge for the industry.
Most pangasius are imported into the European market as frozen fillets and sold in supermarkets, wholesale and food service. The biggest end markets for pangasius are in Northern Europe, where consumers are most concerned with sustainability, price and convenience.
Will pangasius producers be able to follow the strict European food safety standards and improve quality of their products? For example, VASEP recommended that, in addition to keeping price competition stable with tilapia and white fish products in Europe, Vietnamese pangasius enterprises should simultaneously increase product quality and reduce the ratio glacial rate.
There are cases when a few European retailers decided to halt sales of pangasius for food safety reasons despite the fact that the farmed fish was certified in accordance with the ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) standards.
Certified pangasius, a great choice
Sustainability certification for pangasius products is becoming the key to entering European markets, where consumers are increasingly demanding eco-certified fish.
Currently, the ASC standard is often cited as the strongest certification on the market and is the most widely used for pangasius certification. However, other seafood certification schemes have emerged in recent years.
The Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI) has worked on a benchmark system for sustainability certifications. Through this, they ensure all GSSI-approved certifications are aligned with the FAO standard and are therefore the best to use. As several certification standards are included now, a lot of retailers and other seafood companies align themselves with GSSI.
This provides an opportunity for pangasius producers, as more seafood certification schemes will enter the market, such as Best Aquaculture Practice (BAP) of the Global Aquaculture Alliance. However, most European consumers are not yet familiar with these other standards. And won't their number confuse them?
On the other hand, will the strong EU demand for whitefish and rapidly changing seafood flows influence commitment of the European consumers to eco-certification, making them more tolerant of food safety requirements.
Finally, most seafood experts point out that, in fact, Vietnamese pangasius and pollock and cod are two products in different consumer segments and prices, so pangasius can only partially fill a gap in the European whitefish market. Does it mean that whitefish from Russia cannot be fully replaced in the EU market?
As always, big changes raise big questions that require teamwork to answer.
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