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Young's breathing new life into UK pangasius market

The UK retail market hasn't been a welcoming place for the Vietnamese fish, but that's changing rapidly, execs told IntraFish.

Pangasius has been waiting for something to give it a jump-start in the UK market, and thanks to seafood giant Young's Seafoods' embrace of the fish as a raw material in its newer line of products, the species is finally gaining traction.

Young’s Seafood Chief Procurement Officer Stuart Caborn told IntraFish the company's successful Gastro premium frozen product line has been behind the fish's rise, re-introducing consumers to a product long deemed as "down market."

Young’s is the largest importer of pangasius into the United Kingdom, taking more than 75 percent of market share in retail through their restaurant quality Gastro brand retail line, which has two pangasius products in the top 10 selling products in all frozen fish marketed under the trade name basa, Caborn said.

In addition to Young's long-standing partnership with Vietnamese seafood giant Vinh Hoan, the company also teamed up with Vietnam's Godaco Seafood in July 2018 to process and supply the finished pangasius product from its Vietnamese plant.

“Our supply chain is unique in that is has been developed exclusively for the UK market, sourcing treated-free material for over the last decade,” Caborn said. “We’re now seeing other markets trying to replicate this model and 'premiumize' pangasius.”

The company launched the product in battered, breaded and lightly dusted formats. Most recently, the company launched a new line of marinated pangasius fillets into the market as well.

Young's declined to disclose specific figures on its volumes of pangasius imports into the market. Overall, value, volume and unit sales of pangasius are down over the past year in the 52 weeks through March 23, according to Nielsen data. However price per kilogram and price per unit are both up by around 5 percent, to £4.28 (€4.94/$5.55) per kilogram, down only slightly below per-kilogram price for pollock, likely reflecting Young's higher-value items as well as a firming demand for the fish.

Pangasius fortunes rising

Earlier last week, the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) reported pangasius exports surged 70 percent in value to $11.9 million (£9.14 million/€10.6 million) compared with last year, albeit from a low starting point. Overall, pangasius exports to the EU reached $234.9 million (€209.3 million) in 2018, up 20.2 percent from the year prior, VASEP reported.

The value pangasius exports to the UK have been increasing in part because of stronger prices, VASEP's Ta Thi Van Ha told IntraFish. Prices of pangasius are at their highest level in 10 years, reaching VND 36,500 (€1.39/$1.56) per kilogram at the end of last year -- a 78 percent increase compared to 2016. The UK market is one of the highest-paying in Europe for the fish, Ha said.

The UK is expected to remain the second-largest direct market for Vietnam’s pangasius in the EU after the Netherlands, and prices are also anticipated to remain high this year.

Like Ha, Frans Zeeman, purchasing manager at Netherlands-based Seafood Connection, told IntraFish the rising imports should be viewed more through the lens of stronger prices, and Young's success doesn't necessarily mean the species is gaining widespread adoption on the UK market.

While the fish has been viewed with skepticism by some premium whitefish producers concerned about the pricing impact, that impact hasn't ultimately materialized over the years. Wild Atlantic suppliers in the Frozen at Sea Fillets Association (FASFA), for example, don't see the species as an immediate threat because the bulk of their products are sold at fish n' chips shops in the UK, who still mainly use cod and haddock, FASFA Executive Director Malcolm Large told IntraFish.

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