The impact of falling raw material prices in 2015 was minimal on the large and traditional markets of the USA, Europe and Australia, indicating saturated consumer demand for traditional canned tuna.
In contrast, US imports of non-canned tuna, including frozen tuna fillets and high-value processed tuna in pouches increased in 2015. Taking advantage of lower raw material prices, European tuna canners also imported more cooked loins to produce high-value products.
Throughout 2015, overall supply of raw material tuna remained higher than the corresponding market demand for canned tuna.
As a result, tuna packers in Southeast Asia, Ecuador and in the Western Indian Ocean held large inventories.
Frozen skipjack prices fell to record low levels as did canned tuna prices. In December 2015, prices of frozen skipjack weakened to less than $1 000 per tonne, compared with $1,150 in the same month of 2014 and $1,400 in 2013.
However, raw material imports into Thailand, the Philippines and China in 2015 did not increase compared with the previous year. Subsequently, fishing efforts reduced during the fourth quarter of 2015.
As of this writing, fishing in the Western and Central Pacific has also slowed due to poor weather. The US Tuna Treaty has been finalized and the US fleet is now allowed to resume fishing in the Western and Central Pacific. There has been a significant drop in landing activities in Thailand and Thai Canneries are reporting moderate-to-low inventories. Raw material supply is expected to be tight in the coming months.
Fishing in the Eastern Pacific has resumed but catches are poor. In Ecuador, raw material inventories are low and expected to be tight over the next few months.
Short supplies from the Indian and Atlantic Oceans have resulted in substantially higher raw material prices in Europe this year. Fishing in the Indian Ocean is moderate, with mainly skipjack being caught. Local canneries are holding good inventories of raw material. The FAD closure in the Atlantic Ocean ended on 1 March, but fishing has remained at a low-to-moderate level so far. Local canneries are holding moderate raw material inventories.
Non-canned tuna markets (fresh and frozen)
Once again, US imports of air-flown whole/dressed tuna remained higher than Japanese imports of the same product in 2015. The USA also reported growth in this product category, by 3.7 per cent compared with 2014.
US imports of frozen tuna (whole/ dressed and fillets) in 2015 grew significantly by 24 per cent compared with 2014 to total 27,850 tonnes. Nearly 26 000 tonnes of frozen tuna fillets comprised 92 per cent of the total volume, for which the average import price was $ 11.5 per kg. Indonesia was the lead supplier with a 38 per cent market share, followed by the Philippines and Thailand.
Altogether the US market imported 51,000 tonnes of fresh and frozen tuna for non-canned usages in 2015, supported by strong demand from retail and catering trade.
The descending trend of Japan's sashimi tuna imports continued in 2015. Supplies of air-flown tuna from overseas were 20.6 per cent lower than compared with 2014, once again highlighting falling consumer demand for raw tuna in the world's largest sashimi market.
Lower imports of whole/dressed frozen bluefin, bigeye and yellowfin tuna also indicated that sashimi consumption in Japan declined. Moreover, the weak yen made imports costly and competition by cheaper salmon contributed to the decline. Despite the decrease in imports, record low skipjack prices encouraged higher imports for that species (+60 per cent) compared with 2014. Skipjack are primarily being used for processing katsuobushi (smoked/dried tuna) and canned tuna for the domestic market.
Imports of deep frozen tuna fillets (for sashimi usage) increased in Japan by 13 per cent compared with 2014 to total roughly 40,355 tonnes. The total volume consisted of 14 958 tonnes of bigeye, 13,172 tonnes of yellowfin, 12,528 tonnes of bluefin and 21 tonnes of southern bluefin tuna fillets.
Notably, in the tuna fillet market, the share of redmeat quality tuna (bigeye and yellowfin) was much higher in 2015 with increasing demand due to affordable prices and a longer shelf life compared with bluefin. The Republic of Korea and China are the main exporters of red meat quality tuna fillets to the Japanese market.
Falling tuna prices and stagnant demand in the traditional large import markets caused export revenues to fall in the top five exporting countries, Thailand (-16.3 per cent), Ecuador (-30 per cent), Spain (-20 per cent), China (-11 per cent) and the Philippines (-31 per cent).
During this same time period in terms of volumes, total exports of canned and processed tuna also declined for Thailand, Ecuador, China and the Philippines, though less than in value terms. Among the main exporters, only Spain reported a moderated growth of the canned tuna export quantity.
In terms of processed tuna, (HS code 1604141900), Thai exports increased by 16.3 per cent in 2015 to reach 175,000 tonnes.
Record low import prices of canned and processed tuna failed to generate extra demand for conventional canned products in the two most important markets, the EU and the USA.
Nontraditional markets, however, took advantage of lower market prices and imports increased in the Middle Eastern markets namely Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. There were also higher imports in Latin American markets, such as Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.
An analysis of 2015 import patterns indicate that demand for conventional canned tuna may have reached a saturation point in the traditional, large markets, whereas many emerging markets in the developing world offer trade opportunities.
In 2015, US imports of canned and processed tuna totaled 206 000 tonnes, which had a custom declared value of $ 876.8 million. These figures are respectively 14 per cent and 17.5 per cent lower than in 2014. Thailand, China, Ecuador, Viet Nam and the Philippines were the top five suppliers in the US market. Imports declined from all of these sources except Ecuador, which reported a 14 per cent increase.
In 2015, US imports of processed tuna consisted of 64,160 tonnes of cooked loins, 33,065 tonnes of pouched tuna and 105,000 tonnes of canned tuna.
Compared to 2014, imports of cooked loins and canned tuna declined, whereas increased for pouched tuna, which is a higher value product. China and Thailand were the top suppliers of cooked loins and Thailand was the lead supplier of pouched tuna.
In 2015, the EU imported from extra-EU countries 485,700 tonnes of prepared and canned tuna, including cooked loins at a value of $ 2.14 billion. Compared with 2014, quantitative imports declined marginally (0.5 per cent) but the import value declined significantly by 18.8 per cent due to raw material prices weakening worldwide. The top five import markets in the EU were Spain, the UK, Italy, France and Germany.
Compared with 2014, import demand remained rather stagnant even though raw material prices, especially frozen skipjack, were low. The top five suppliers to the EU market from extra-EU countries were Ecuador, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Thailand and the Philippines. Supplies declined from all of these countries except for the Philippines.
However, imports increased from Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Madagascar and the Solomon Islands.
Looking at total EU imports of prepared tuna from extra-EU countries, the share of cooked loins was 25 per cent. This product category demonstrated year-on-year growth of 13 per cent to total a bit over 122,000 tonnes in 2015, with cooked skipjack and yellowfin each accounted for about 50,000 tonnes. Spain remained the largest market of tuna loins with a 23 per cent rise in imports compared with 2014, as a result of lower raw material prices.
In the UK, imports of high-value products increased, particularly from Spain, France and Portugal.
Compared with 2014, imports of eco-certified pole and line caught tuna products also increased from the Maldives by 175 per cent at 520 tonnes. In comparison, imports from Papua New Guinea declined by 45 per cent against the same period in 2014.
In France, overall imports of canned and processed tuna in 2015 declined by 8 per cent compared with 2014. However, cooked loin imports, which are included in this total, increased from 8,142 tonnes in 2014 to 8,679 tonnes in 2015. These were used for processing value-added products that are generally sold within the EU market.
Among the other markets in the EU, canned/processed tuna imports declined by 13 per cent in Italy, 14 per cent in Portugal, 15 per cent in the Netherlands and 14 per cent in Belgium but increased by 21 per cent in Poland.
Overall import trends for canned tuna remained mixed in the Asia/Pacific region. Imports in Japan were stable at 55,000 tonnes, while domestic production of canned tuna increased following softening of raw material prices and increased raw material imports.
Lower tuna prices generated improved demand for canned tuna in the emerging markets but failed to make much of an impact on US and EU imports for conventional products. However, US imports of pouched tuna increased during the reporting period. Spain managed to increase its exports of high-value canned tuna to the intra-EU market in 2015.
These summary trends for 2015 are likely to persist overall for 2016, as long as raw material prices remain stable. That said, as of March 2016, supplies of tuna had declined and lower inventories in canneries were reported. Both of these factors have led to strong demand for raw material and have resulted in increasing prices for both skipjack and yellowfin.
In Ecuador, skipjack prices are expected to reach $1,500 per tonne at the end of April. Demand from canned tuna buyers has also started to strengthen. Time will tell if this demand growth will continue long enough to affect overall tuna trade trends in 2016.