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Chilean Seafood -- Opportunities in the United States

The U.S. fish and seafood market has been steadily growing in recent years. As U.S. consumer demand continues to increase over the next few years, there is a significant opportunity for new suppliers to take advantage of this market.

Currently, up to 90% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, and this number continues to rise in response to consumer demand. In fact, the U.S. is the third-largest seafood importer in the world. While the U.S. fishing industry is extremely profitable, it makes its revenue mainly through exporting overseas to countries with supply shortages that will pay higher prices. Since it is more lucrative for U.S. fisheries to sell abroad, American consumers are accustomed to imported fish and seafood. Depending on the specific product, Chile often falls within the top five or top ten leading suppliers of seafood products to the U.S. Other prominent suppliers include China, Canada, Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico and Vietnam.

American demand for fish and seafood has been steadily increasing over the last few years due to a variety of factors. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has projected domestic per capita seafood consumption to grow between now and 2020, in part due to rising per capita income in the nation. Fish is a pricier alternative to chicken, meaning that increases in per capita income will lead consumers to choose fish over other traditional sources of protein. As per capita disposable income is projected to rise this year and beyond, this implies a rise in revenue for the industry.

Another significant factor is increased consumer health consciousness. Heightened concerns over the adverse health effects of red meat have led consumers to seek out alternative sources of protein. Recent outbreaks of E. coli and Salmonella in the U.S. have contributed to a consumer shift away from red meat and poultry. While seafood’s relative price only makes it a viable alternative for wealthier demographics, increased awareness about the health benefits of seafood is starting to narrow the gap. A number of organizations, including the American Heart Association, have increasingly promoted the consumption of seafood due to its high content of omega-3 fatty acids. This has caused seafood to gain more popularity among a growing base of health-conscious consumers. As per capita red meat consumption is predicted to decline in coming years, increased health consciousness and per capita income indicate good prospects for the fishing industry.

When it comes to seafood, one of the most important factors for American consumers is safety. SeaFood Business Magazine reported that seafood safety was the most important factor for American consumers within the last few years, even surpassing price. Safety is strongly tied with country of origin. While China is one of the leading exporters of seafood to the U.S., their industry has been plagued with concerns over food safety. In the last two years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an alert on five different species of fish imported from China due to illegal additives. As consumers become more aware of health concerns over products imported from other countries, they are likely to look for other alternatives.

Chilean fish and seafood, particularly Salmon and Tilapia, are well-received by American consumers and are viewed as fresh and wholesome products. This puts Chilean exporters in a good position to take further advantage of the market. Mexico is also among the top ten exporters to the U.S. when it comes to whole fish and shellfish. In 2016, Mexico exported a total of 74,880 metric tons of fish to the US - a 4% increase in volume since the year before. Shrimp exports increased by 5% over the same period. As the 17th largest global producer of seafood, Mexico has the resources to increase exports to the U.S. market.

The Washington, D.C. metro area is the perfect market for foreign fish and seafood because of its affinity for a lavish lifestyle. Gourmet seafood products are increasingly in demand. The share of cured and canned fish as a segment of industry revenue has increased over the last five years. As Americans in big cities like Washington D.C. prioritize working long hours, the convenience of pre-prepared and on-the-go meals becomes more important to consumers. Gourmet seafood that is canned or ready to cook is becoming an essential product, particularly in these highly affluent areas, and demand for these goods is only estimated to expand in the coming years. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Northeast has continued to increase seafood imports every year due to skyrocketing consumer demand in this area. However, neither Chile or Mexico make it into the top ten exporters to this U.S. region. The Washington D.C. area market thus represents a wealth of opportunity.

As demand for high-quality fish and seafood continues to rise, the U.S. will be looking for alternate sources. Food health scandals including diseases, illegal additives, and even oil spills have tarnished the reputations of traditional seafood exporters to the U.S. This leaves Chile is in an optimal position to use its well-respected image to expand its presence in the U.S. market by specifically targeting affluent and health-conscious consumers.

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