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FISHY

Frozen fish to tinned tuna: India’s appetite for processed seafood is about to take off

By Maria Thomas

India has a coastline that extends over 8,000 km, so it’s no surprise that the country is one of the world’s biggest fish producers and a top exporter of fish and fish products.

In 2014, India’s total production, which includes marine and inland catches, as well as aquaculture production, was around 9.6 million tonnes, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2016 State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report (pdf). This is a huge jump from the paltry 0.75 million tonnes (pdf) the country produced in 1950-51.

However, a lack of reliable domestic infrastructure to transport perishable goods meant that Indians have all this time been primarily eating fresh fish, which is at the heart of a number of regional cuisines. But that may now be changing.

India is now the world’s fastest-growing market for packaged processed fish and seafood, a category that includes frozen and canned products, according to market research firm Mintel. Though it remains a miniscule segment, accounting for less than 1% of consumption, India’s processed fish market grew at a compound annual rate of nearly 25% between 2011 and 2015, outpacing Indonesia, Turkey, South Africa, and Russia, the other countries in the top five list.

Much of this growth is being driven by launches of frozen fish fillets and shrimp, as well as shelf-stable products such as tinned tuna and crab, and fish pickles. In the three years ending March 2017, frozen products accounted for 53% of the fish and seafood launches in India, while shelf-stable ones accounted for 37%, according to Patty Johnson, global food and drink analyst at Mintel.

The growing availability of frozen fish is a sign that the attempts to upgrade India’s cold-chain transport infrastructure are paying off. In 2015, the National Centre for Cold-Chain Development, a unit of the ministry of agriculture & farmers welfare, identified a number of missing links (pdf) in the country’s logistics chain—the result of a sizeable shortfall in refrigerated vehicles and pack houses with cooling facilities—which prevented the transport of perishable products over longer distances. Since then, efforts have been made to solve the problem.

“New product development in frozen and chilled formats in India is being supported by government and industry efforts to increase cold-chain capabilities and modern retail in the country,” Johnson explained.

She added that the government’s decisions to invest $15 billion in cold-storage infrastructure, sanction 100 cold-chain projects in the near-term, and allow 100% foreign direct investment in the segment are all helping to boost the availability of frozen fish.

And that’s good news for India’s busy urban consumers who are increasingly looking for quick and easy meals. As a result, by 2020, Mintel expects India’s overall processed fish market to almost double to around Rs477.3 crore, up from Rs242.2 crore in 2016.