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All eyes on Africa and Middle East as demand swells

Seafood demand in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia is poised to top $7 billion by 2021. The race to tap into these burgeoning markets is well underway but it isn’t too late to get in on the action.

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September 17, 2018

Growing economic and political stability, infrastructure development, urban expansion, high birth rates and rising employment have set the stage for greater access to a wider range of foods and beverages across the Middle East and Africa.

According to a report issued by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Africa is poised for a particularly considerable increase in fish and seafood consumption.

The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018 projects growth of 37% within the next 12 years. The prediction came as a pleasant surprise for many industry insiders since Africa’s current per capita consumption is among the world’s lowest at 9.9 kilograms.

In the Middle East, countries such as the UAE consume an average of 33 kilograms of seafood per capita each year, which amounts to nearly double the global average, according to the FAO report.

Across the Gulf, demand for fresh fish products from local, regional and global fish suppliers, producers and aquaculture centers has been on the rise for years and is expected to grow by 8% annually through 2030.

While birth rates have declined across much of South Asia the region’s existing population is quite robust. This, coupled with disposable income growth and other encouraging economic developments, suggests South Asia has a lot of potential too.

A path to emerging markets

A growing number of seafood producers, retailers and other members of the supply chain are anxious to capitalize on opportunities in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. To that end, many plan to attend the SEAFEX Middle East 2018 trade show in Dubai next month.

c9c9d2e3da59f6b07d1bf34aca0fd060 The expo will feature nearly 150 exhibitors from 25 different countries. Photo: SEAFEX

Participants include the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC), which has invited domestic exporters to attend the conference as well under a broader bid to expand the footprint of Norwegian seafood in and around the Middle East.

In a statement published last month Ingelill Jacobsen, an Emerging Markets Manager at NSC, described the region as an important area of focus for her organization and the Norwegian seafood industry at large.

“Through a common position, the NSC wishes to create a good arena for networking, where Norwegian exporters can meet potential customers from the region,” she added in reference to SEAFEX and other conferences that serve as platforms for market penetration.

While events like SEAFEX often shed new light on regional trends and consumer preferences, broader themes that are shaping the entire seafood industry are a central focus as well.

Sustainability, canned foods and ‘seacuterie’

On every continent, restaurants and retailers are moving towards sustainable and atypical seafood varieties that minimize food waste and align with the values of modern consumers who are increasingly conscious about the quality and origin of what they eat.


Photo: Pixabay

Smaller, lighter meal options that deliver a fun foodservice experience are infiltrating menus everywhere, which is why preserved seafood bites, also known as seafood charcuterie, are gaining major ground. Driven by the mainstream success of sensations like poke, fish tacos and ceviche, modern chefs are leveraging the appeal of mixed sharing platters to utilize smaller, alternative seafood varieties that represent less wastage and better profit margins.

While sustainability matters for many consumers, including millennials, price is still a central consideration for most people who purchase seafood.

“What typically happens in our stores is that consumers will see a seafood variety that’s not as expensive, and because of the price, they’ll ask about it. That’s where our staff can take over, say this fish is really tasty, here’s where it came from and here’s how to prepare it,” notes Daisy Berg, the Seafood Program and Category Manager at New Seasons Market in Portland, Oregon.



Chefs across the globe are catching on to the novelty and convenience of high-quality tinned seafood steeped in various olive oil preparations. Traditionally given as gifts and sold in volume across retail outlets in Spain, Portugal and the Pacific Northwest, these meticulously boned delicacies are starting to get snapped up by restaurants that appreciate unique, speedy cuisine.

Jackie Rodriguez of Datassential, a market research firm headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, has found that consumers are becoming more “adventurous”. Katie Button, a chef at Cúrate in Asheville, North Carolina, says her customers are more open-minded than ever as well, even when it comes to canned seafood.

“Customers are willing to change their preconceived notions about canned foods. That is what makes it fun for chefs to play around with,” Button adds.

As more businesses realize the opportunities that exciting, high-quality seafood cuisine represent in today’s increasingly health conscious market, retailers, chefs and restaurateurs are more willing than ever to explore consumer preferences, canned seafood and many other sales drivers at greater length when SEAFEX convenes at the Dubai World Trade Centre on October 30 th.

Tickets to SEAFEX are free if you pre-register for the conference online by the end of this month. Access to co-located events like The Specialty Food Festival, GulfHost and yummex Middle East is included too. CLICK HERE for more information.

This article was produced by the content marketing team at NHST Global Publications, an affiliate of IntraFish Media, on behalf of an advertiser, SEAFEX.