Fish Marketing and Consumption in Vietnam:

What about Aquaculture Products?

Raymon van Anrooy
Fishery Development Planning Service (FIPP)
FAO Fisheries Department, Rome
Raymon.Vananrooy@fao.org



Fresh fish traders at Ho Chi Minh City fish market

Fisheries products provide an important source of proteins, fatty acids and minerals to the daily diet of the Vietnamese population. Vietnamese people consume fisheries products mainly because of their high nutritional value, their easiness to digest and the fact that they are considered relatively cheap food stuffs. With regards to price, it is noteworthy that the average cost of the favourite fish species is US$3.4/ kg, while the price of substitutes like pork and chicken averages US$5.0/kg and that of beef, as much as US$7.3/kg. Fish sauce, which is added to a number of rice and noodle dishes, is priced around US$0.62/liter. Vietnamese people also like to eat fish because it's easy to cook, widely available, safe, and adds variety to the daily diet.

Good quality and freshness are considered the most important attributes of fisheries products according to more than one-third of the Vietnamese fish consumers. Twenty percent of the consumers see the reasonable price of fish as most important, and 18 percent cite the availability of their favourite fish species.

The study compared the various characteristics fish (e.g. price, availability, taste, healthiness and freshness) with those of its main substitutes (see Table 1). Considering the previously mentioned average prices, it is not surprising that almost half of the consumers responded that fish is cheaper. Fish scores very well on characteristics such as taste, healthiness and product diversity, with well over half of the consumers considering these attributes higher for fish than for its substitutes.

Table 1. Comparison of fish based with its main substitutes (pork, chicken and beef) on the following attributes: price, availability, taste, health, safety, diversity and freshness.

Percentage

Attribute (%)

Price

Availability

Taste

Health

Food Safety

Diversity

Freshness

Higher

28

55

55

66

44

65

46

Similar

23

36

36

26

42

26

36

Lower

49

9

9

8

14

9

18

 

Food safety and freshness are issues that are receiving increased consumer attention. Therefore, it is good to note that 86 percent and 82 percent of fish consumers, respectively, regard fishery products as safer and fresher than its direct substitutes. From the figures, it is also clear that fish scores poorly on the attribute of availability, with almost one-fourth of consumers noting that it is relatively less available than its substitutes.

Fish for home consumption is generally purchased at the market or from specialized fish retailers (94 percent). Respectively, 17 percent and 14 percent of the fish purchasers sometimes buy fish from middlepersons and supermarkets. The latter point of sale is rapidly gaining ground because of the rapid increase in the number of supermarkets, a trend that started in Ho Chi Minh City and is now occurring in the large cities in northern Vietnam. Nine percent of the fish purchasers sometimes buy their fishery products directly from fish farmers, while around 6 percent buy catch from fisherfolk at the beach or the landing place.

The main reasons given for where customers choose to buy their fishery products are the vicinity of the supplier, the price of the product and the good quality provided by the supplier. Fish farmers are generally selected as main suppliers because of the reasonable prices they charge (40 percent), the quality of their products (33 percent), which are often sold alive, and an already existing relationship between the farmer and the customer (16 percent).

Aquaculture products have an important share of the total fisheries products market in Vietnam. Although 24 percent of the people never purchase aquaculture products, there are also around 7 percent who purchase primarily aquaculture products.

The average monthly household expenditure on fisheries products was estimated at around US$22. Although it was expected that wealthier households would spend relatively more on higher value aquaculture products (e.g. black tiger shrimp and freshwater prawns) no significant relationship, either positive or negative, was found between expenditure on aquaculture products and income group. Thus, hardly any relationship was found between household income and the consumption of various fish species (e.g. the consumption of tilapia, shrimp, catfish, climbing perch and snakehead fish was not related to household income).

Remarkably, the only species that are not often purchased by the lowest income groups are the carps, especially common carp and grass carp. These species are widely seen as excellent for rural poverty alleviation in Vietnam, and the fact that they are infrequently purchased by the poorer segment of the population does not mean that they are consumed less often by this sector. Poor farmers (e.g. those who grow rice and fish) already cultivate these species and thus are unlikely to purchase them. Moreover, poor people who have access to rivers, streams and lakes probably catch carp themselves. Because common carp is a bit more expensive than bighead carp, Indian major carps, tilapia, and most other freshwater and marine finfish, it is less often purchased by the poorest segment of the population.

Almost all fisheries products are available on the market in sufficient quantities. The only species that is considered relatively scarce is snakehead fish. Twenty percent of the consumers of this species reported that it was unavailable or scarce during part of the year. This indicates that opportunities exist for the cultivation of snakehead, taking in consideration that, when marketed, more than 80 percent of this fish is sold for over US$1.20/kg. In contrast, over 70 percent of the carp (bighead, grass, common and Indian major carps) is sold at lower prices.

The demand for freshwater aquaculture and fisheries products is on the rise in Vietnam (Table 2). More than 35 percent of consumers reported an increase in their consumption of freshwater products between 2000 and 2001, while only 13 percent consumed less freshwater fish in 2001 than in the previous year. At the same time, the consumption of marine fisheries products saw a similar trend, 44 percent of the people reporting an increase in consumption from 2000 to 2001.

Table 2. Change (percent) in household fisheries products consumption between 2000 and 2001

Product

Increase

No Change

Decrease

No Idea

Fresh and live

52

33

9

6

Frozen

17

40

11

32

Canned

13

38

9

40

Instant (noodles, soups etc.)

13

40

10

37

The majority of the fish-consuming people increased their consumption of fresh and live fisheries products, while 17 percent increased their consumption of frozen products over the period 2000-2001.

Aquaculturists and Product Marketing

Vietnamese aquaculturists generally sell their products to middlepersons or wholesalers (72 percent). However, 16 percent sell directly to consumers, 13 percent to retailers and around 10 percent to processing companies. The main marketing problems they encounter are low and unstable prices, lack of marketing/price information and the limited number of buyers at the local level.

Aquaculturists see a role for the government in providing them with better marketing opportunities through:

  • Enabling policy development,
  • Increasing access to price and market information,
  • Introducing contract farming practices, and
  • Establishing wholesale markets.

Aquaculturists’ solutions to become more effective in their own marketing activities can be largely summarized as follows:

  • Search actively for market and price information,
  • Get good quality fingerlings,
  • Deliver products of the right sizes and good quality, and
  • Establish good relationships with customers.

However, it is clear that many aquaculturists have no idea of how to improve the marketing of their products.

As more than 90 percent of the aquaculturists intend to establish or maintain a long-term relationship with their customers and input suppliers, it is obvious that they see clear benefits in such a relationship. In this respect, it should be noted that many of them already exchange some marketing information with their customers and suppliers. Moreover, around one-third of the aquaculturists are involved in joint grading of the products with their customers and/or have (oral) agreements with one or more customers to buy their produce. The main reasons aquaculturists get involved in long-term relationships with specific customers/buyers are:

  • To improve their interdependency relationship,
  • To increase access to market information,
  • To reduce costs (related to the search for customers, negotiation, transaction, time and labour), and
  • To increase access to technical and product requirements information.

Display of fish at the night wholesale market in Ho Chi Minh City A shop specialized in selling fish products in Ho Chi Minh City











Almost 80 percent of the aquaculturists have never had problems with non-acceptance of their product and/or price discounts demanded by customers as a result of not providing the products as earlier agreed upon. However, some 6 percent frequently encounter rejections or price discounts as a result of smaller size of fish, lower quality, lower quantity or late delivery of the products offered to their customers.

What can Aquaculturists Learn from the Above?

First of all, aquaculturists should capitalize on those attributes of fish that are considered its strengths as compared to its substitutes e.g. healthiness, price and diversity. This means that they will have to continue to produce a variety of healthy products for a reasonable price, and that fish should be promoted as such among the public. Secondly, aquaculturists should focus on further improvements on those attributes of fish that can be considered weaknesses e.g. its availability and freshness. One can think, for instance, about keeping products fresh for a longer period by keeping them alive, or by trying to limit the period needed for transport and marketing to a minimum. The latter could take place through logistical fine-tuning of harvesting, transport and marketing with their customers/buyers.

In view of the fact that most fish is purchased at the market (from retailers), and that the number of supermarkets is increasing rapidly, aquaculturists should think about how to address this changing market environment. Supermarkets generally demand a stable supply of good quality products of a certain (often rather high) quantity. For individual aquaculturists, the demands of large retailers such as supermarkets are difficult to meet. Therefore, it is promising that aquaculturists generally intend to have a long lasting and strong relationship with their partners in the aquaculture product chain (customers and input suppliers). Via such a relationship they try to perform better in terms of delivering higher quality products and getting around the general lack of market information. As a result, aquaculturists get the information needed to respond properly to the demands of the final consumers.

As aquaculture products are consumed by all income groups, it is important that the current availability of a wide variety of products (catfish, shrimp, prawns, carp, tilapia, perch, gourami, grouper, cobia etc.) is maintained or further extended. Given its scarcity on the market during some times of the year, snakehead is one species with market potential.

In view of the fact that many consumers have increased their consumption of fresh and live fish, and the recent and rapidly growing trend of eating sashimi, it is important that aquaculturists take note of the changing demands of consumers. Coordination and collaboration in the aquaculture product marketing chain, which includes aquaculturists, middlepersons, processors and retailers, provide good opportunities to respond to changing consumer demands.

Acknowledgements

The data for this article were derived from the MTF/VIE/025/MSC "Fisheries Marketing and Credit in Vietnam" research project databases. This joint FAO, Ministry of Fisheries of Vietnam and DANIDA Fisheries Sector Programme Support sponsored, nation-wide project interviewed more than 650 consumers and over 300 aquaculture farmers in 12 provinces. The author acknowledges the important contributions of Ms Nguyen Viet Ha, Mr Nguyen Viet Dang, Mr Nhan Ngia and Ms Phuong Mai to the above study.