Responding to market demands and challenges: making aquaculture a competitive food producing sector for the benefit of world consumers

The last few years have been marked by increasing concerns about aquaculture as an environmentally sustainable activity. For an industry to be sustainable, however, it not only has to be environmentally sustainable with a low, measurable and controlled impact, but it must also be economically viable and socially acceptable.

The aquaculture industry globally is characterised by an apparently endemic cyclicity that goes beyond good or bad management and affects good companies and bad. This boom and bust cycle is especially disruptive in its social repercussions (job losses, loss of investor and other stakeholder confidence) and represents the most serious impediment to sustainable aquaculture development: an aquaculture company or farmer in financial difficulties can rarely afford to be conscious of environmental issues.

This is essentially a market issue: the most well managed, competitive, aggressive and innovative company will fail if it produces something the market doesn’t want, in the wrong form, at the wrong price or in the wrong quantities. Understanding the market and responding to it are essential to the economic viability of any activity. The sustainability of aquaculture is now a question that is of increasing concern not only to the activity’s stakeholders such as local and national authorities and NGOs, but also to consumers; addressing consumers’ environmental or social issues is in essence, a market response. Understanding and evaluating the economic aspects of marketing is vital for building an effective marketing strategy as well as a coherent corporate vision.

This presentation aims to address the boom and bust phenomenon in the industry by examining some of the solutions that can help smooth out its cyclicity. The global aquaculture industry is a commodity market characterised by stiff competition and price volatility. The great majority of producers are small to medium-size enterprises (SMEs) with limited resources to invest in the promotion of their products, and the market is dominated by a few large retail chains with demands for compliance to their own quality labels while paying ever decreasing prices that are not necessarily passed on to the consumer.

The role of information gathering, management and analysis for decision making is discussed. These are three different challenges that can be addressed on a company, industry and state level. The effective interpretation of market data is essential to the formulation of a coherent business plan and evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of a particular product. In essence, the aquaculture industry globally has developed along two distinct lines: the modernisation and expansion of an existing, traditional farming method; and the creation of new industries based on technological advances. In terms of effective market placement, the activity in question (and its origin) can play an important role in so far as the consumers’ acceptability and familiarity with the product is concerned. The marketing needs become different in each case.

Marketing is nothing more than communication that is targeted to a specific audience. The presentation will examine the different methods of communication available, as well as the target audience, the methods that can be used to effectively formulate the message and the key role of retailers in marketing. The trends that influence consumers’ buying habits, the importance of quality certification to increase consumer confidence, and the role of logistics and distribution systems in improving quality and service are discussed.

Farmers generally face a commodity market where they have little bargaining power to negotiate either prices or transaction terms and are removed from the final consumer. Possible solutions such as production concentration can lead to greater market stability and therefore sustainability, but only if it is accompanied by greater cost efficiency and better production planning, i.e. production that is better coordinated with demand and better negotiation power vis a vis the market channels. An alternative strategy of concentration through cooperative action can be a means of achieving concentration of the offer without financial consolidation, allowing smaller, family-owned farms to retain their independence.

The use of collective action, either formal, such as producers organisations or informal, such as collectives, can be an important tool in helping farmers communicate more effectively with their final consumers. Good communication regarding producer activities, origin and production methods are necessary to transmit the benefits of aquaculture as an activity to consumers and promote both the production and consumption of responsibly produced seafood.

The presentation includes a brief review of the global market for aquaculture products and a review of the basic marketing aspects and principles, and will identify potential response strategies. A review of the general characteristics of the market for aquaculture products must examine the determinants of supply and demand, sources of competition and a qualitative analysis of consumers and their preferences, including contemporary market trends and consumer perceptions towards aquatic food consumption. The review of the basic market aspects and marketing principles looks at the structure of the market system, market segmentation, consumer behaviour and price and supply elasticity. Response strategies to market challenges for the aquaculture industry are discussed based on a market-focused strategy and not on a production-oriented approach. The presentation looks at some of the lessons that can be learned from similar industries and present market and corporate strategies that can lead to a modern, competitive and most importantly, sustainable global aquaculture industry.


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Global Conference on Aquaculture 2010

The conference was organised by FAO, the Thai Department of Fisheries and NACA and held in the Mövenpick Resort and Spa, Phuket, Thailand, 22-25 September. The conference was the third in a series of aquaculture development conferences, following on from the Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium held in Bangkok 2000, and the FAO Technical Conference on Aquaculture, held in Kyoto 1976.