Whitefish into Eastern Europe market
Mr Robert Gershberg

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Eastern Europe is a market typically overlooked due to its limited buying capacities and struggling economies are emerging in present-day as a notable consumer of wild seafood from around the world.

Figure 1: About Sogda

Sogda is a secondary processor and distributor of wild seafood from North America with offices in China, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. Specializing in groundfish species, predominantly Pacific Whiting and Alaska Pollock. Our speciality is brand management and directs to consumer distribution. Over the last decade our flagship brands, Captains Pride and Pacific Fisher have become household names, specifically in Eastern Europe.

Figure 2: Eastern Europe

Although these countries speak different languages and don’t have free trade across the majority of their borders, their culture is common. The greatest is the food. These countries follow similar eating habits and consumption demands driven by location, financial capacities and consumer demands.

Figure 3: Population

Eastern Europe struggles to maintain a steady population growth and has suffered a significant decline over the last three decades with steady migration patterns to Western Europe and North America. As a whole, Eastern Europe is a very respectable market at 176 million people and 70% live in urban areas. Overall growth is 0.3%.

Figure 4: Consumer Buying Power

(* = members of the EU) As a whole, these countries are very much developing and growing. Amongst the lowest GDP numbers in the continent, Eastern Europe finds itself almost at the mercy competing for market demands; Meaning, they are mostly left as a secondary option for the promise of higher returns in other primary dominant markets. Consumer confidence fluctuates and sales patters closely follow seasonality. All of the countries you see here consume the least expensive protein available. Whether it is Poultry, Swine, or our wild/natural and sustainable whitefish.

Figure 5: Import of Whitefish

There are a few key anchors in this region. Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus are leading the charge. The potential for growth is really instrumental. Their economies are financially growing as well as their food standards. The demand for wild whitefish will ultimately follow. Something interesting to take away from this slide is if you notice Ukraine here is #2 with close to 40,000 Tons of whitefish imported last year, while their GDP is last at $3,104. There is not a direct correlation between buying power and consumption.

Figure 6: Seafood Consumption

Seafood consumption varies greatly between the countries with major spikes in those which have an ocean border, and a depressed consumption in the land-locked countries, which however are the frontrunners for imported groundfish as a proportion. The traditional consumption is vastly driven by cost. Almost all whitefish species can be substituted by Pacific Whiting or even Alaska Pollock from US or Canada, or vice versa.

There has been a major shift over the last few years in the whitefish industry. Consumer education is growing, and people are starting to choose wild, sustainable seafood as a favourite for a healthier diet. Unfortunately, the Eastern European consumer is not yet ready to pay a premium for a ready to eat, or more convenient product. Thus, we strive to support these markets and deliver goods in the form which already has a strong carved out demand.

Figure 7: Market Mix

Although the highest demand is direct to consumer distribution, another growing sector is secondary re-processing. Labour remains inexpensive compared to Europe as a whole creating opportunities for production of value-added and higher-end retail products. Poland is becoming a leading re-processor for the EU while Belarus remains a strong partner of Russia. Many of these countries are investing in equipment and will become a processing hub for their respective regions as ultimately the consumer will choose the convenience of a value-added item, when possible.

Figure 8: Point of Sale

The top right photo is if a higher-end supermarket, the bottom right is an upscale open-air market, while the bottom left is a typical urban Eastern European market. In the centre is a typical fried white fish preparation style. Summarize: the European Whitefish market is not glamorous and certainly not complex. It is almost entirely driven by basic consumer demand and price. In reality, it is a healthy market and at the forefront of growth and prosperity.