By Alejandro Godoy
[In 2002, I attended the International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS) for the first time. The event was held in the Hynes Convention Center in a 193,000 square foot building, and according to press releases, 750 exhibitors attended that year. ]
The event had two floors, where all the fresh and frozen seafood was exhibited in IBSS. Another floor was named “Seafood Processing America” where all the machinery and processing equipment was displayed, as well as logistics, insurance, and cold storage facilities services.
The exhibition floor was selling 75 % of the products as frozen or fresh, and there were 25 % where value-added products packed for retail were promoted. The only sustainable certification was the Marine Stewardship Council: sustainability was not a big issue in those days.
At that time you were able to see how Chinese companies were starting to do business in the West, because in 2001 China officially became a member of the WTO. Only a few other Asian companies were at the event, with frozen and dry seafood. There were small country booths at the event, but big booths from leading companies had all the exposure.
The International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS) changed to Seafood Expo North America (SENA) in 2015. Now it’s bigger, and held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in a 516,000 square foot area, where more than 1,000 exhibitors including producers, processors, machinery suppliers and those offering other services attend.
This year I attended SENA and saw a different event: more exhibition space, more market-driven products, a 50 % frozen and fresh mix, and 50 % value-added products offered for retail. It’s a different event, more professional booths and pavilions, better image graphics and promotional brochures and souvenirs. It’s like walking inside a supermarket.
In contrast, instead of having small booths by country now we have Country Pavilions, including Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Ecuador, Ireland, Korea, Mexico, Scotland, Vietnam and Japan. Inside these pavilions private companies sell seafood under the umbrella image of their countries’ recognition. This market approach helps American purchasing companies gain more trust with overseas companies, and also helps small and medium seafood companies abroad to expand their markets in America.
Fresh products were exhibited throughout the event, with a focus on texture, quality and flavor. Frozen products, mainly Asian, were everywhere, but not receiving too much attention. You could barely see the seafood covered by layers and layers of ice. Other pavilions like Chile, Canada and Mexico were full of people inquiring about prices and sampling fresh, quality-driven products.
All hallways were filled with people conducting business, exchanging cards and scanning their ID’s for future contact. It was very noticeable that experienced companies had planned days ahead to schedule meetings regarding current and future customers, while other companies just waited for customers to arrive at their booths. Those three days of SENA will not get people inside your booth unless you already did all your calls and arranged your meetings before arriving. After the event closes in the evening, business still goes on through private dinners at restaurants and bars all around Boston, where buyers and sellers discuss pricing, distribution and commercial strategies.
The growth of aquaculture products this year at SENA was amazing, including everything from shrimp, kampachi, cobia, tilapia, oysters and more. The acceptance from buyers and consumers of farmed products was significant, and even more so for those differentiated by good aquaculture practices and achievements through certification validating production process. Almost all aquaculture products had a sustainable or good aquaculture practices certification, and this has resulted in huge pressure on sustainability for wild caught products that have been in the market for years.
Talking about sustainability, the event had different certification services available, either for wild caught or aquaculture products. This caught my attention because of the increasing number of options available to producers, processors, distributors – as well as the cost of implementing these procedures.
In order to standardize all sustainability certifications, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations started an initiative entitled Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI), which is based on providing the same procedures and standards for a globally accepted tool to improve the transparency of performance standards in seafood certification schemes.
There was also an area showing machinery - everything from automated processing lines to small hand tools. This exposition is a great opportunity to see innovations in processing equipment. Companies from Germany, France, Holland, Canada, South Africa, Spain and America exhibited state-of-the-art processing and packaging equipment and materials. Sustainable packaging was a big topic, with a focus on reusable plastic boxes, recycled material boxes and more.
Another major attraction was the conference, with a number of sessions that had great attendance. Important topics were discussed, and specialists addressed different subjects. Some 21 % were focused on sustainability, 14 % on traceability, 11 % on fraud issues, 11 % on aquaculture topics, 11 % on import issues, 7 % on marketing topics and the rest on various topics.
Why do more and more companies from around the world go to this event every year? According to the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2015 the United States imported 2,604,140 metric tons of seafood – roughly 90 % of the seafood consumed. The U.S. is the second largest international seafood market behind China, and surpassing Japan. The average per capita seafood consumption in 2014 was 14.5 lb per capita, and in 2015 it increased 0.9 pounds to 15.5 lb.
In other issues, there was much discussion on the proposed “Border Adjustment Tax” (BAT) from producers, and on how this will affect the seafood business, complicating seafood trade from overseas and making all seafood more expensive for American consumers in the short term. The theory, according to analysts, is that a 20 % taxation increase will increase government income, and this will have an effect, with a stronger U.S. dollar, but it’s just a theory.
I have learned that I need a better meeting schedule for next year’s SENA, in order to improve both timing and business. See you at the next SENA in 2018!