Tuna exporters urged to increase shipments to Middle East, North Africa

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 9 Sept) – The Department of Agriculture (DA) urged producers and exporters of canned tuna here to increase their shipments to the Middle East and the North African (MENA) region in the wake of the rising demand in its markets.

Gil Herico, agriculture attaché of the Philippine embassy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said the MENA region appears to be the best option for local canned tuna exporters in terms of market expansion as the demand for the product in the area has been steadily increasing in the past several years.

He said the surge in the demand for canned tuna could be attributed to the continuing growth of the region’s agriculture-based food supply imports, especially among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The GCC – a regional intergovernmental political and economic union consisting of all Arab states of the Persian Gulf – comprise Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE.

In the MENA region, he said the food retail sector, which is currently valued at US$5 billion, has been also growing at a faster pace.

He said it could be seen with the opening of an average 80 hypermarkets every year within the region.

“MENA’s estimated retail sales in the packaged food market, which is dominated by processed seafood products, could reach around US$2 billion by the end of the year,” Herico said at the recent 16th National Tuna Congress here.

He said the top products in the packaged food market are canned processed tuna and other related food brands, dried processed fruit, noodles, chilled processed food like fresh tuna and other meats and confectionery.

In terms of population, Herico said the MENA region’s 380 million people offer tremendous promise to the food retail market, especially for canned tuna.

He said the region’s per capita consumption for seafood products is currently at around 50 kilograms a year.

In Dubai alone, he said 66 percent of its 4.5 million population consume fish or seafood products at least once a week.

Herico said MENA’s canned tuna market is currently dominated by products from Thailand, which ships around 100 40-footer container vans every month.

“If we can just get 10 percent of that, it would be huge for our canned tuna industry,” he said.

He said canned tuna exporters could initially tap the growing Filipino population within the MENA region as the main market.

He said Dubai has an estimated 850,000 Filipino population composed of overseas workers while Abu Dhabi has around 150,000.

“If we can establish them as a niche market, just imagine one million people buying at least one canned tuna on a monthly basis,” he said.

In the food retail market, Herico said there are still “a lot of spaces to grow” for canned tuna from the country.

He said he had initial discussions with an Indian businessman who owns a chain of 130 food retail outlets in Dubai and who wants to market canned tuna products specifically coming from this city.

“I am urging our industry players to unite and focus on expanding our exports to the MENA region. You can start by planning a selling mission there for tuna products exclusively coming from this city in 2015,” he said.

This city, which is dubbed the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines,” is currently the country’s main source of fresh and processed tuna exports.

The city is home to six of the country’s seven tuna canneries and other related ventures that generate average annual export receipts of nearly US$300 million.