Source: Bianca De Marchi / AAP Image
Households and hospitality businesses can expect competitive seafood prices this festive season, but regulatory changes and a shifting export market might stir the waters in 2024.
Seafood prices have risen modestly over the past 12 months, but have largely escaped the same inflationary pressure faced by other grocery categories.
Meat and seafood prices rose 1.8% in the year to October 2023, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The price of dairy and related products expanded 7.8% over the same time frame, while bread and cereal products rose 8.5%.
SmartCompany understands that fishmongers and seafood retailers expect broadly comparable prices this festive season, compared to 2022.
Some independent businesses are also confident of beating the major supermarkets through price, range, and a dedicated, discerning customer base.
Moderate seafood pricing will benefit the 28% of Australians who plan to eat seafood on Christmas day, according to recent data from Afterpay.
Certain Christmas classics may even face lower prices than expected, after what Seafood Industry Australia chief executive Veronica Papacosta has labeled a bumper season for prawns.
However, specific produce may incur higher prices than usual this December.
Fishmongers at South Melbourne Market told Nine News the price of crayfish may rise closer to December 25, if inclement weather conditions continue to hamper the fishing season.
While those optimistic projections will influence holiday menus nationwide, other factors threaten to influence domestic seafood pricing into 2024 and beyond.
Three years after China banned the import of Australian rock lobsters, crashing prices for the homegrown produce, the federal government is confident the export market could soon re-open.
Speaking to ABC Radio National in November after meeting with his Chinese counterparts, Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell said he was “very confident” in normalising trade relations.
Based on those meetings, Farrell expected that “by Christmas all of these trade impediments will be removed, and we will have restored that stable relationship that we want with our largest trading partner”.
Should the Chinese export market — which accounted for 91% of Australian rock lobster exports in 2018-2019 — re-open to Australian producers, seafood prices are likely to rebound from the retail slump faced in recent years.
While benefiting local producers that may prosper from expanding export demand, the price bump could make it harder for fishmongers to sell to local consumers enduring a cost-of-living crunch.
Separately, the recent acceptance of Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL) rules across states and territories is likely to change how hospitality businesses display and sell their seafood offerings.
Federal, state, and territory consumer affairs ministers last month agreed that fish and chip shops, restaurants, and pubs selling fish and seafood must clearly list their origins.
The commitment comes after a $1.6 million funding injection in the 2022-2023 federal budget, and is designed to give consumers more awareness and choice about their dining options.
Papacosta and Seafood Industry Australia have celebrated the move, which promises to highlight Australian seafood and encourage diners to opt for local produce.
However, small business representatives, including the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, fear the changed labelling rules could add an extra compliance burden on small businesses.
This would particularly affect venues that change their menu or suppliers on a day-to-day basis, depending on what seafood may be fresh and available.
Small business advocates fear this could force venues to raise prices even further.
Speaking to SmartCompany before the CoOL rules were agreed to, Luke Achterstraat, CEO of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, argued for a small business exemption to the rules.
“For a large seafood chain, a big business, they might be doing this anyway,” he said.
“But if you’re talking about local fish and chip shops, independent mum and dad stores, it’s a pretty tall order for them to be keeping up with just more added compliance.”
“Businesses are run off their feet,” Achterstraat continued.
“It might sound straightforward to label things, but in real life, it costs money to print menus.
“It takes time. There’s opportunity cost, and time that could be spent on other activities.”
Lawmakers expect small businesses will be given a lengthy transition period before those rules are fully enforced, with further consultation expected in 2024.
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