International endeavours

The Brussels Seafood Expo provides an annual snapshot of the global seafood market and opportunities

Photo of fish on display at Seafood expo Fish of every type and species were on show.
Photos: Peter Horvat

By Peter Horvat
The global seafood market is diverse and complex. It changes like the ebb and flow of the tide but can provide endless opportunities for savvy producers, although Australia’s role is small when compared with some countries.

To get an idea of just how big the seafood industry is, and what potential there is, one visit to the Global Seafood Expo in Brussels, Belgium, will almost get you there.

The expo features more than 1700 exhibiting companies from more than 75 countries. Exhibitors supply nearly every type of fish, seafood and seafood-related product or service. More than 26,000 buyers, suppliers, media and tyre kickers from 140 countries visit during the three-day event. The expo provides a good snapshot of what is happening in seafood globally.

Despite the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris, about a dozen Australian companies attended the expo. Companies represented covered the spectrum – small to large and both wild and aquaculture – although there was no coordinated Australian presence.

I attended this year’s expo looking to develop an export market strategy for the FRDC. The trip offered me the opportunity to look at several different options and approaches that would provide value for industry members that are exporting seafood globally.

The FRDC is looking at export trade markets because, as industry and government indicated, this was a priority when the FRDC was developing its five-year Research, Development and Extension (RD&E) Plan – especially after signing three new trade agreements. The RD&E Plan also clearly showed that there was market failure in coordinating Australia’s seafood presence internationally.

After speaking with a range of people who are exporting or who are looking to export, it is clear that whatever approach or direction the FRDC takes, it will need to suit a broad range of exporters and be able to deliver a result for all of them.

These include companies that are:

  • starting out, not yet exporting but looking to explore and understand the landscape;
  • occasionally shipping product (when they have excess produce or the Australian dollar is favourable);
  • regularly shipping small batches of their products to key markets; and
  • primarily export-oriented and ship larger volumes regularly – for example, rock lobster, abalone or tuna.

So what did I see at the expo? I saw potential opportunities for everyone.

1. (From left) Nuffield scholars Abby McKibben, Dennis Holder and Dan Richards, and Renee Vajtauer, executive officer for the Commonwealth Fisheries Association. 2. Fisheries scientist Ray Hilborn and Dan Richards visit the European Union Parliament.

Matching buyers and sellers

Buyers from all over the globe attend, and not just big commodity buyers such as the major supermarkets. Buyers cover the whole range from hotel chains, restaurant food and beverage managers to provedores who are looking for speciality products that meet specific buying criteria.

With 26,000 buyers attending, this is a huge opportunity; even if only one per cent came to look and buy Australian seafood, that would be more than our companies could supply

Also attending this year’s Global Seafood Expo were three Nuffield Scholars: Dan Richards, Abby McKibben and Dennis Holder. All three were taken aback by the size, scope and scale of the expo.

Dan Richards, general manager at Humpty Doo Barramundi, summed up what he saw: “If you want to see what the leaders in global seafood are up to, then Brussels is the place to be. Whether you are looking for processing equipment, product forms or market contacts, it is all there. Your biggest challenge at the show is trying to get around the show and take it all in over three days. I’ll certainly be back for another bite.”

Australia in perspective

South Australian Blue Swimmer Crab fisher Dennis Holder says being in Brussels for three days was a “mind-blowing experience”.

“It helps show the trade in seafood worldwide and puts into perspective where we fit in the world. The benefit for any Australian fish companies coming is the exposure to the huge scale and diversity of fish products that are available; and volume of fish trading that occurs worldwide,” he says. “Canada exported thousands of tonnes of lobster to the European Union in 2014, as an example.

“The show also allows you to speak to other fishers and gain an insight into the issues and problems surrounding fishing worldwide and our problems are not unique, they are worldwide.”

Abby McKibben, brand manager at Huon Aquaculture, says: “It was fantastic to see how the same seafood products on offer in Australia are supplied and presented so differently to markets in various other countries across the world.

“If you’re supplying Australian consumers directly and want to remain competitive then this expo is a must, especially given the continued rise of international entrants to the Australian market. I’m leaving with more knowledge of the global seafood landscape than I could have ever hoped to get from just the internet and have made useful contacts and expanded my seafood network to continue discussions post-expo,” she says.

Market trends

This year, for me, the expo showed that the pace of change in the seafood category has slowed, matured and is now refining some of the technology that it uses – machines that skin, pin bone and slice to a specified portion size, different skin coat packaging and new plastic fish boxes. One piece of equipment did stand out, more so for the plastic packaging it used – a vacuum-seal zip-lock bag. Nothing innovative you may think, except that the bags can now be cut and printed to look like anything you can think of.

Another area where I think innovation is still occurring is around how seafood is prepared. There were thousands of plain, frozen blocks of fish and prawns, but there was also a range of new value-added products on show. These products look to use lower-value cuts mixing them with other products – for example, diced fish wrapped in a banana leaf, seafood doughnuts (yes, really) and crab souffles – all packaged, frozen and available for your convenience.

1. Some not-so-pretty fish on show. 2. Machines that skin, pin bone and slice.

Seafood stands alone

One of the options being explored is to develop an Australian seafood stand that services the needs of all Australian participants. Australia has previously had a stand at Brussels, but changes in the Australian dollar, priorities and personnel saw this fall away. Some industry members have now approached the FRDC to look again at options for this and various other seafood shows around the world.

I met with Diversified Communications – organisers of the major seafood expos in Brussels, Hong Kong and Boston – to get a better understanding of the drivers and opportunities for having a stand, what alternate options might look like and, most importantly, to find out the costs to establish and run an Australian stand.

The bottom line is that running a trade booth at a large show takes considerable planning and logistical coordination, as well as a solid investment of funds to do it well. How much of each depends on what the industry is looking to achieve. To return to the four types of companies outlined above, it is clear that each group has a different set of requirements, ranging from just having somewhere they can use as a base and find a seat, up to the provision of meeting rooms, refrigeration, and a site that showcases their brand and allows for customers to come along and try the products. Not surprisingly, the cost goes up the more options you add.

I am interested to hear from any companies that would like to participate in a joint Australian seafood stand and what features they would like. Email me directly ( with your thoughts.

National benefits

Speaking with other stand organisers from Russia, Canada and Scotland also provided insight into how they approach establishing a presence and funding it.

The Russian stand was paid for by industry contributions – basically user pays.

Canada uses a mixed method, whereby the Canadian Government coordinates export promotion across all states to ensure a high level of integrity and that the focus remains on the country master brand and not on individual provinces or companies. That said, within the Canadian stand, the sub-brands such as Ontario or Clearwater were very visible.

The Scottish stand received some funding from industry, but the Scottish Government also provided significant funds. All three countries were very clear about the benefits of attending events such as the Global Seafood Expo in Brussels.

All three said that, at the country level, many millions of dollars of sales had been written over the three days. However, they did concede being able to show a return on investment at the company level was more difficult, as some companies were there for different purposes and with different product mixes.  

Wine Australia joint opportunities

Slicing and dicing made easy.

Over the past several years, the FRDC has been building a partnership with Wine Australia to co-brand and promote our industries. This has included coordinating the prawn and oyster industry to partner for the launch of Aussie Wine month in Sydney (see FISH June issues for 2014 and 2015).

With the recent opening of the new FRDC office in Adelaide co-locating with Wine Australia, we have been looking to build on what the two organisations can do collaboratively. Export market development is at the top of that list.

Wine Australia’s general manager of marketing Stuart Barclay says the focus for wine at present is to work with key small-to-medium-size premier companies and brands that will help showcase the regional diversity and outstanding quality of Australian wines in markets around the world. This signifies a change to the historic focus on commodity products and he believes fits well with where he sees Australian seafood positioning itself.

Wine Australia is not only showing the technical expertise and craftsmanship that underpin the quality, it is also adding in some of the winemaker’s personality such as being bold, caring and authentic.

This approach aligns with much of what some seafood industry companies are doing to convey an emotional story with their products – think Austral Fisheries’ Skull Island Tiger Prawns, Australian Wild Abalone or Southern Rock Lobsters Clean Green program.

Prior to attending the Global Seafood Expo I met with Laura Jewell, Wine Australia’s head of market for the UK and Europe, who outlined the approach taken for its activities in Europe. It was clear that for some markets – the UK for example – the wine audience had a very singular, almost traditional approach, when it came to industry communications, and to step outside these norms brings some risk.

However, Laura Jewell does see an opportunity for seafood to be involved, and for it being a good way to change things up a little and add more colour and depth to some events, to really show how food and wine can work well together, accentuating the value and beauty of both.

We have identified several events that could be highly suitable for partnering (see the table above), and a further few could be undertaken if circumstances were right; for example, if industry people were in town when an event was on. More information on the events is available on the Market Programs page at the Wine Australia website.

Seafood participation in a wine event would provide a cost-effective value add-on that is very different to that of a broad seafood trade show. It would most likely be a much more targeted engagement with only a few and, in some cases, only one sector or company participating in the event. This could range from a tasting, wine matching, or offsite dinner showcasing both seafood and wine.

Wine events with potential for joint seafood promotion
Vinexpo Asia-Pacific
 Hong Kong, China
24 to 26 May 2016 
Australian Grand Tasting
 Seoul, South Korea
 2 September 2016
Australian Grand Tasting
 Tokyo, Japan
 6 September 2016
ProWine  Shanghai, China
 7 to 9 November 2016
Australian Day Tasting
Shanghai, China 26 January 2017
ProWein Dusseldorf, Germany
19 to 21 March 2017
China National Food, Wine and Spirits Fair
Chengdu, China
23 to 25 March 2017

Why export?

The value of Australian seafood exports including edible and non-edible fisheries and aquaculture products is $1.3 billion per year.

While Australian exports are primarily dominated by high-value products, such as rock lobster, tuna and abalone, a growing number of small producers now see value in exporting their produce.

The signing of three trade agreements will result in significant reductions in trade tariffs and will also spur more companies to consider exports. More customers, sale of excess production, recognition, or prestige and access to processing facilities are some of the reasons these companies will export. For most, the main driver will be to improve sales and profitability. Seafood companies need to make a good return on investment from their sales, and expanding the market and customer base will also drive up the value of their products.

FRDC achieves approved-body status for seafood

On 15 March, the FRDC formally received notification that it had been approved under the Export Market Development Grants  scheme as an ‘approved body’ for generic international promotion of the Australian seafood industry.

Approved bodies are entitled to claim expenses that are for the export promotion of their associated industry and its broader membership. This means the FRDC will be able to claim back expenditure up to $150,000 per year on export market activities. It is envisaged that these funds will be then reinvested into trade market activities.

The FRDC is drafting a policy and how-to guide that will underpin the activities that will form part of its overarching offer to industry. This will not only bolster the FRDC’s ability to deliver services and activities but also reduce their cost.

Partners needed

The key to developing an export market planis to understand which products are being exported to which markets.

The FRDC trade portal provides a good overview of export (and import) seafood movements. If you have not seen the new dashboard visit the portal (/trade/Pages/MarketDashboard.aspx).

Knowing which seafood products are being exported is a start, but we also need to know which companies are interested in partnering and participating in any of these events.

If you are interested in being part of any export market events, whether an Australian seafood stand, a Wine Australia event or even just to go along as an observer to get some more information, please let us know.

More information

Peter Horvat,