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Seafood companies are investing more in the domestic market to cater to the increasing demand for premium seafood such as shrimps, squids, lobsters and seer fish, even as exports are experiencing a downturn due to global economic problems.
The pandemic years have forced a change in the domestic seafood market, which is controlled largely by unorganised players. “Overall, the local seafood market is growing by 9-10 percent. The market is seeing a gradual shift to organised players which are growing more than the industry at 30 percent or more,’’ said Shivam Gupta, director of WestCoast Fine Foods, an integrated seafood company with farms and hatcheries and an extensive retail network.
The pent-up demand in inland metros such as Delhi and Bengaluru and the sales rebound in restaurants after the pandemic have aided the growth, Gupta said, adding that he expects the vertical to continue growing at the current levels in the coming years.
The availability of shrimps in India has soared with booming aquaculture activity pushing the production to over 9 lakh tonnes. Currently over 7 lakh tonnes are exported, making it a key commodity in the seafood exports worth $8 billion. The seafood processors and exporters reckon around 30 percent of the production can be sold in the domestic market as they find domestic prices quite comparable to the export prices. The export market is currently witnessing a decline in prices due to a glut and economic problems in major markets such as the US and Europe.
Read| Indian seafood industry worried as US takes aim at shrimp import from India
Markets opening-up
Several high-value items which were earlier exported or did not find favour with the local customers are finding a good market now, according to Mathew Joseph, COO and co-founder of FreshToHome, a leading online seafood and meat platform.
“Vannamei shrimps, the mainstay of seafood export from India, are finding more takers domestically. Seer fish and tiger prawns selling in the range of Rs 1,000 to 1,500 per kg have good demand. We even have requests for Atlantic salmon, which comes at Rs 5,000 per kg, from big metros,’’ he said.
The company has invested around Rs 500 crore in infrastructure and transportation to retain the freshness of its products. “We have factories in all the major cities in the country and we take extra care to maintain the cold chain network right from the harbour to the time it reaches the customer,” Joseph said.
For instance, the fish caught from Kerala is sent by flight in the evening and reaches the customer in Delhi the next day morning. To reach the customer outside the city, the company uses its transport with cold storage facilities. The Rs 1,100-crore company is expecting a minimum 20 percent rise in the turnover in the current fiscal.
According to research organisation Expert Market Research, one of the main trends seen in the Indian shrimp market is the development of the food industry due to the growing demand for ready-to-eat food items, driven by factors including rapid urbanisation, hectic work schedules, rise in disposable incomes, increase in health consciousness and living standards and a jump in the number of working women.
Even surimi, which is a value-added product made from fish meat paste to imitate the texture and taste of products like crab and lobsters, is finding a market in India. Crab stick is a popular surimi product.
Expansion plans
Gadre Marine Export, the leading surimi exporter from the country, has managed to make inroads in the domestic market with its products. “The rate of acceptance of surimi products in the Indian market has improved. We are doing Rs 35-40 crore business in the Indian market. The domestic market is growing at 25 to 30 percent even though from a low base,” said Arjun Gadre, MD of the company.
Kings Infra Ventures Ltd., an aquaculture farming and seafood trade company, is foraying into the domestic market to set up a chain of quick-service restaurants (QSR). The company plans to invest around Rs 100 crore over the next few years to set up QSRs on a franchisee basis to serve ready-to-serve seafood recipes of prawns and other fish.
To begin with, it will set up 100 QSRs in Kerala and another 200 in Bengaluru. “We intend to bring the convenience of heat and eat seafood delicacies in the domestic market under the brand Kings Bento,” Shaji Baby John, CMD of the company, said.
Abad Fisheries, a major seafood exporting company, is doing business of Rs 200 crore in India with 25 cold storages spread over the southern states. “At a time when we are facing reverses in the export market with new regulations, duties and attacks in the Red Sea leading to diversion of cargo, the domestic market is becoming stronger. Shrimp has ceased to be a specialty product and has become a regular affair even in weddings,” said its CMD Anwar Hashim.
Read| India unlikely to meet FY24 seafood export target of $9.25 billion
‘Support needed’
Though high-value items like shrimp have become affordable and the general dislike of frozen fish has faded to a great extent, more needs to be done to develop the domestic market, said Abraham Tharakan, chairman of Amalgam, which sells frozen food under brand Buffet brand in the retail market. “The government should go for a campaign similar to what it did for egg to promote seafood,” he said.
The government and the industry should work together to create more awareness on the health aspect of seafood like shrimp and to create more cold chain networks, observed Ravi Kumar Yellanki, president of All India Shrimp Hatcheries Association. “Shrimp has exquisite taste, is more versatile than chicken in making dishes and is highly sustainable to boot as it has lower feed conversion rates,” he said.
Mathew Joseph of FreshToHome, who is also a fisheries task force member of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), said they have recommended to the government to set up infrastructure facilities like cold storages in harbours and fish markets to reduce wastage. Expert Market Research has projected the Indian shrimp market to grow at a CAGR of 9.60 percent in eight years to reach 2.12 million tonne by 2032.
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