Nova Scotia seafood moving fast into Asia
Co-op Fisheries keeps focus on Asia despite Canada's recent trade deal with European Union
Victoria Co-operative Fisheries General Manager Osborne Burke expects the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union signed on Sept. 21 to be good for business. For now, though, his focus is on Asia.
“In my opinion, we’re going to be moving faster into the Asian market and taking advantage of what we can there, versus European markets,” said Burke on Nov. 9, following his trip to the China Fisheries & Seafood Expo, Asia's largest seafood trade exhibition, held November 1-3, 2017, in Qingdao, China.
Victoria Co-op was one of fourteen companies at the Nova Scotia seafood booth in Qingdao. The trade show was Burke’s second trip to Asia this fall, following a September trade mission accompanied by Premier Stephen Macneil and Minister of Agriculture/fisheries and Aquaculture Keith Colwell.
“It’s going to be a slower build up in Europe with the free trade agreement, but there’s a lot of potential because tariffs are falling. This especially helps with live lobster which we sell there now.”
Burke said different packaging methods and European preference for smaller product sizes and quantities may slow growth into the EU market.
Meanwhile, Asia already has a huge appetite for a wide spectrum of seafood. Its appetite for Canadian brands is growing.
“They want good Canadian product from a pristine environment that they know is safe to eat. Canada, in general, is associated with safe seafood.”
Three years ago, Victoria Co-operative Fisheries wasn’t selling any product in Asia.
Now, they sell over $1 million annually to customers in China, Vietnam and Japan with no signs of slowing down.
“Vietnam’s economy is 10-15 years behind China, but it’s the next China. There’s tremendous potential,” said Burke.
The Co-op now ships direct to Vietnam, responding to customers’ desire to deal directly with fishermen. In yet another new twist, Burke now wears a broker hat on occasion for his customers in Asia, sourcing products like the Jonah crab not found in Cape Breton.
Value-added products are another market to consider, and Burke admits it is one he has barely begun to tap. He is in discussions with a Hong Kong customer about providing steamed crab shells that restaurants can use to serve seafood dishes, perhaps one day selling stuffed crab shells in retail packs to customers.
Maintaining momentum in the Asian market means closely monitoring customer needs and prioritizing relationships above all else.
“In Asia, you can't just drop in, sell something and say goodbye. You've got to build that relationship, build that trust. It doesn't happen overnight. Sometimes, it may take two or three years. We have a customer in Shanghai. Every time we go there, we go into their home with their family and their workers and we sit around in the evening in their home and eat dinner.”
United states, China and the European Union are Nova Scotia’s three largest seafood export markets. Other fun facts: 35% of Canada’s shellfish exports come from Nova Scotia. In 2016, Nova Scotia exported 146,100 Tonnes of fish and seafood valued at $1.8 billion. Graphic and data courtesy of Nova Scotia Seafood.