Sown & Reaped
Processed shrimps a hit abroad
Workers process shrimps into ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook forms in ARK Seafoods Ltd in Chittagong. Photo: Anurup Kanti Das
It is a graduation from mere suppliers of shrimps to high-end processors, inspired by best practices in other countries.
Continuous efforts have given the Bangladeshi shrimp exporters a new identity. They are now known as the processors of value-added shrimps. They are no longer mere suppliers of raw materials for buyers.
Today, a large volume of shrimps and frozen fish, the country’s third biggest export earner, are exported in ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat forms, thanks to steps taken two decades ago.
“Until the mid-80s, we were raw material suppliers to European buyers who processed shrimps at their factories. Later, we thought that we could do the same,” says Ashim Kumar Barua, director of Apex Foods Ltd, a pioneer in value added shrimps and fish.
“We had the confidence that we could process our products further. If processors in Thailand and Europe could do it, we could too,” he adds.
Based on that spirit, the Chittagong-based Apex Foods began efforts to process shrimps in 1988 and set up machines to make individually quick frozen (IQF) shrimps — which give consumers scope to cook the desired quantity instantly.
The move to export shrimps in IQF form was meant to shift from the practice of exporting shrimps in frozen blocks. It reduced the hassles of end consumers, who previously had to wait for the whole block to defrost before breaking free the desired number of shrimps.
“The IQF shrimp offers them the benefit. There is no need to wait. Consumers can just pick out the number of shrimps they want and cook instantly. Shrimps in IQF form are preferred in households,” he says.
Initially, our buyers were from Denmark and the UK. We exported shrimps in cooked brown form and IQF form, says Barua.
Following Apex and some other leading processors such as Meenhar Seafoods, Rupsha Seafoods and Fresh Foods began to sign up for upgrading their plants to make value-added shrimp.
Industry insiders say the attempt to add value to shrimps was taken in a bid to gain wider acceptability among buyers in the West and sustain competition with other countries like Thailand.
A rise in the cost of labour for processing shrimps in Europe and changing consumer preferences gave additional impetus to the local exporters. Furthermore, they also received better prices for processing the seafood up to ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat stages.
Currently, 20-25 processing plants are engaged in exporting more than 50 types of value added shrimps — IQF, tail-on, tail-off, P&D (peeled and de-veined), breaded and marinated, etc. The volume of exports of value added items is rising, according to exporters.
Industry insiders say the amount of exports of these further processed or value added shrimps would be 40-60 percent of total shrimp exports of 50,000 tonnes a year, rising from 30,000 tonnes a decade ago.
“The main demand from buyers is for value added shrimps. Except for restaurants, no one wants to buy traditional shrimps sent in block forms,” says Md Amin Ullah, managing director of ARK Seafoods Ltd.
Barua says the exports of value-added shrimps began to rise in 1998.
“Now, value added products occupy more than 90 percent of our export basket,” says Barua of Apex that exports 5,000 tonnes of shrimps and frozen fish a year.
The company makes 70 types of value added shrimps, such as herb and garlic, butterfly, cooked butterfly, breaded and marinated shrimps, for buyers abroad including superstores such as Walmart and Tesco.
Industry people say Bangladesh exports of processed shrimps mainly reach Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland, UK, US, Canada and Australia. A portion is also exported to Japan and Russia, while some exporters are looking to tap the Middle Eastern and African markets.
However, demand for shrimps in block form will remain. Restaurants prefer shrimps in block forms, says Barua.
According to exporters, shrimp processing has widened job opportunities in the sector, giving employment to more than 10 lakh people, including farmers. Various ancillary industries have also developed.
“It has created new jobs for people as factories have expanded their processing lines,” says the managing director of ARK Seafoods Ltd.
Bangladesh’s image has also brightened in the export markets, adds Barua of Apex.
“This has been possible because of value addition. If we do not make any major mistake, there will be no problems in exporting,” says Barua.
“Prospects are bright. But one problem is that demand for shrimp depends on the economic condition of the western countries. If the economies of our importing countries do good, we will do better,” says Barua.
Another problem is low farming of shrimps, processors add.
“There is demand for shrimps abroad. If you can give us the raw materials, we will be able to export greater quantities,” says the managing director of ARK Seafoods.