Norwegian seafood goes hand in hand with modern food trends in China. In 2018, export of salmon increased by 205% and the total value hit a record high at NOK 3.7 billion. In the coming years, the Chinese seafood consumption is expected to significantly increase, driving further demand for Norwegian seafood products.

The Chinese seafood market is the world’s largest by volume and value and is growing steadily in terms of production as well as consumption. The Chinese are increasingly showing an appetite for more seafood, both at home and in restaurants. Even though international seafood still makes up a relatively small part of the Chinese market, China is the world’s largest exporter and importer of seafood.

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The world’s largest seafood consumer

China is by far the largest producer and exporter of seafood. However, it also has the largest consumer market. In 2016, the total volume of seafood production was 69 million tonnes. 49% were produced in freshwater, while the remaining 51% were in salt water. 93% of freshwater production consisted of farmed varieties and only 7% was wild-catch. In the case of salt water production, 56% were farmed and 44% were wild-catch.

In 2016, 68 million tonnes of seafood were consumed in the Chinese market and, in recent years, the consumption has increased by 2–3% each year. The bulk of this is covered by domestic production, while imports account for less than 4%. According to the FAO report “The state of the world fisheries and aquaculture”, the share of imports will increase in the years to because Chinese domestic production is expected to decrease. However, this is still a significant piece of a very big pie when seen in absolute terms.

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To date, China has been a net exporter of seafood, with exports of 4.19 million tonnes and imports of 3.39 million tonnes in 2018.

Pollack is the most imported species by far, comprising 17% of total import volume in 2018. In the same period, salmon (both farmed and wild-caught) amounted to 9%, closely followed by Shrimp and Octopus with 7% each, Cod (6%), Herring (5%), and Mackerel (4%).

Russia is the largest exporter of seafood to China, with 43% of the share of volume in 2017, followed by United states (19%), Norway (8%), Taiwan (6%), Canada (5%), and Japan (3%).

Norwegian seafood exports to China

Norwegian exports to China in 2018 were 150,000 tonnes of seafood worth NOK 3.7 billion. Compared to 2017, this represents a 17% decrease in volume and 11% increase in value. Mackerel was the largest specie by volume, followed by cod, haddock, capelin, and saithe. The export volume of salmon has seen a significant increase of 205% in volume in 2018, compared with 2017.

Most of the imports into China are intended for further processing and re-export. Mackerel is only re-exported to Japan and South Korea, while whitefish is re-exported to Europe and the United States. The Norwegian Seafood Council has estimated that approx. 85–90% of imported seafood from Norway is processed and re-exported to other countries. However, the percentage varies between different species.

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Improved access to markets

Market access for Norwegian salmon to China improved considerably during the first half of 2018. Most importantly, market access has been gained for the Norwegian counties of Troms, Nordland and Sør- Trøndelag for salmon. There are still conditions that need to be clarified and resolved for normalised trade.

Increased focus on health and food safety

In line with increased living standards, Chinese consumers have new motivations for choosing seafood. Greater financial power provides an opportunity to focus on eating good, healthy and nutritious food. One of the key drivers for eating seafood is that it tastes good. The proportion of consumers who say that they eat seafood for health and environmental reasons has also increased sharply in 2018. In particular, health and sustainable production have become far more important.

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At the same time, there is less focus on seafood being quick and easy to prepare. It is expected that the demand for safe and healthy foods will continue to increase.

Chinese consumers have also become more food safety-conscious. This underlines the importance of clear and precise information about seafood products.

Norway is regarded as one of the primary countries of origin for seafood by Chinese consumers. Over the past few years, awareness about Norway as a seafood producer has grown from 7% in 2012 to 22% in 2018. In the same period, awareness of Japan as a seafood nation fell from 52% to 28%.

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Salmon – Norway’s strongest brand in China?

Salmon is probably the most famous Norwegian ’brand’ in China, even after several challenging years in terms of access to the market. Salmon is primarily eaten raw; somewhere between 80-90% of total salmon consumption is eaten either as sashimi or sushi. The restaurant market has the largest share, with about 75–80% of the total.

Sales channels for home salmon consumption include modern supermarkets, wet markets, e-commerce, home delivery from restaurants and take-away. About 44% of Chinese consumers prefer Norway as a country of origin for salmon, an increase of 25% compared with a few years ago. Japan is preferred by fewer and fewer people, with a share at 27% currently, compared with 39% in 2012.

It should be noted that Japanese salmon is not sold in China. The Japanese salmon connection is due to financial and historical coincidence: Norway introduced farmed salmon to Japanese cuisine in the 1980s, where it was used for sushi and sashimi. This contributed to Japanese cuisine’s rising international popularity during the 1980s and 90s, and salmon, therefore, became the most popular species for sushi and sashimi outside Japan. As things stand, and as things have stood in the past, Japanese raw salmon is unsuitable for human consumption. Despite this, many people still associate sashimi made from salmon with Japanese cuisine.

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The Norwegian Seafood Council has estimated that China’s total salmon consumption in 2017 was 90,000 tonnes. However, only a small proportion of this was imported directly from Norway due to the market access situation. After full normalization of trade, the Norwegian Seafood Council expects that the Norwegian share could increase substantially. Exports to the Chinese market are also expected to grow sharply in the coming years.

The Norwegian Seafood Council estimates that the Chinese will consume 240,000 tonnes of salmon by 2025.

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Norwegian cod – a new brand on the market

In 2014, the Norwegian Seafood Council launched the “Cod in China” project. Marketing and market develop- ment through this project have established Norwegian cod as a strong brand in the Chinese market.

The Norwegian Seafood Council has worked with seafood producers to promote Norwegian cod by differentiating it from all other whitefish species available in the Chinese market – an effort that is now about to bear fruit.

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The high esteem attached to Norwegian seafood – especially salmon – has been a catalyst for the popularity of Norwegian cod. Preference for Norway as a country of origin for cod is 48%; no other country enjoys similar popularity in this market segment.

The Norwegian Seafood Council has estimated that approximately 4,500 tonnes of Norwegian cod were consumed in China in 2017. At the same time, there is great potential for further growth, with expectations of a rise to 40,000 tonnes in 2025. This represents 10% of the current total Norwegian cod catch.

Other ’new’ species

In 2017, the Norwegian Seafood Council conducted a study exploring the possibilities of increasing consumption of less established species in the Chinese market. This included redfish, Greenland halibut, pollock, herring, mackerel, capelin, king crab, snow crab, brown crab, blue mussels, cold water prawns, scallops and dried and salted cod.

Surprisingly, the figures showed that China was consu ming a larger share of imported seafood from Norway in 2016 than previously thought. According to the latest estimates, four types of fish have great potential in the Chinese market: mackerel, capelin, redfish and Greenland halibut. All these species are already established in the Chinese market and have a relatively high consumption rate. China consumes approximately 29,000 tonnes of Greenland halibut per year (in total, not only Norwegian products), 15,000 tonnes of mackerel, 9,000 tonnes of capelin and 7,000 tonnes of redfish. Together with salmon and cod, these species are predicted to have the largest nominal growth in the years ahead.

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