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The Dutch fish-processing industry and wholesale

Article index
 Round fish and flatfish industry
 Herring processing
 Salmon and eel smokehouses
 Trade in sea-frozen pelagic fish
 Shellfish sector
 Processing of common shrimp
 Domestic fish wholesale
 Other fish processing and wholesale
This report presents an overview of the Dutch fish-processing industry and wholesale from an economic perspective. It outlines the scale, activities, employment, the purchasing and sales flows and developments in the environment of the sector. The research is based on a survey of businesses and on other available statistics. The data relates to the year 2005.

The turnover of the fish-processing industry and wholesale amounted to an estimated 2.7 billion in 2005. Approximately 0.9 billion more in fish products is shipped through the Dutch main ports. A total of approximately 3.6 billion in fish products is therefore traded through the Netherlands. The processing industry consists of 291 establishments. The most important places of business for the processing industry are: Urk, Yerseke, Katwijk, Spakenburg, IJmuiden, Lemmer and Zoutkamp. In addition, fish products are traded on a regular or incidental basis by a few hundred wholesale companies without processing facilities.
The fish sector is not very concentrated. The four largest companies have a market share of approximately 18%. About 60% of the turnover is accounted for by medium-sized companies with a turnover between 5 and 50 million. The degree of concentration of the Dutch fish sector has changed very little since 2000. Within the European context, the fishprocessing industry is undergoing major changes. A number of cross-border company mergers and takeovers have resulted in prominent fish companies coming under non-EU ownership. Icelandic and Norwegian companies play a particularly important role in this. The emergence of fish processing in China is also significant.
Industrial fish-processing in the Netherlands is primarily based on flatfish, herring, shrimps and shellfish. Since 2000, dependence on national fish supplies has declined further in the round fish and flatfish industry.
An estimated 6,500 people are employed in the fish-processing industry. Approximately 20% of the employees in this industry are on temporary contracts. The labour requirement is dependent on the changing availability of raw materials. Approximately a third of the workforce is female. Approximately 60% of those working in fish processing are aged between 25 and 45. Over 80% of them have had no vocational training.
The gross added value of the sector amounts to 14% of the turnover (approximately 340 million). This equates to almost 52,000 per person. Almost 80% of the costs are related to the purchasing of fish and other raw materials.
80% of the products of fish processing are destined for other countries. The export value of the processing industry amounts to approximately 2.2 billion. Approximately 0.9 billion more in fish products is shipped through the main Dutch ports. The scale of the domestic market is estimated at 0.5 billion (wholesale value).
The turnover in the Dutch fish-processing industry and wholesale sector has risen by an average of 13% in recent years while employment has fallen by almost 8%. The growth in turnover is striking because important sub-sectors within fish processing (such as the flatfish and shellfish industries) have been right up to the natural limits of their growth opportunities for a number of years already. The businesses within these sub-sectors already had to deal with the unstable and limited supply of raw materials (fresh or otherwise) from the North Sea in 1995 and 2005. Structural growth on the basis of local supply is therefore impossible. For many businesses, this was even more true in the year 2005 than in previous years. The sector has now partially adapted. Businesses have disappeared or downsized. Some businesses have shifted attention to other imported species. Others have sought out markets that offer greater scope for products with added value by extending their marketing and quality policies. They have thus turned their attention fully to the international market, both with regard to the provision of raw materials and with regard to their customers. The internal market has grown by approx. 20% since 2000, with the supermarkets forming an emerging distribution channel. The turnover of fresh fish in chain stores has doubled since 2000. Dutch fish processing is gradually benefiting more and more from this new sales channel.
The entrepreneurs in the processing industry see threats in terms of catch restrictions and raw material provision, and also see their margins coming under pressure. The low degree of concentration in the sector means excessive price competition between all the parties.

Round fish and flatfish industry

The round fish and flatfish processing industry is the most important within the Dutch fish industry. There are approximately 70 businesses active within the sector, with a total turnover of almost 0.7 billion. The four largest companies have a combined market share of 40%. Most of these businesses are situated in Urk.
Employment in round fish and flatfish processing amounts to over 2,400 people, 14% of whom have a temporary employment contract. In periods with a very limited supply of fish, this number of employees can fall to approximately 2,100. Compared with other fish sectors, the added value of the round fish and flatfish industry is low. Almost 90% of the turnover consists of raw material costs, ultimately resulting in added value of over 80 million. The supply of raw materials and the pressure placed on the margins are seen as the main threats.
Approximately 85% of the turnover is destined for other countries, with Italy, Germany, France, Spain and Belgium as the most important markets. The most important products are sole, plaice and other flatfish products, alongside more and more imported species.
The number of businesses applying themselves to the processing of flatfish supplied to the Netherlands is declining. Businesses have closed down or downsized. Other businesses within the sector have shifted their activities to product and market development and the creation of added-value products. The sector is rendering itself ever more independent of the supply to Dutch auctions through expanding the range of fish imported from non-EU countries.

Herring processing

The herring-processing industry consists of approximately 15 businesses with a sectorturnover of over 115 million. These businesses are situated mainly in Katwijk, Scheveningen and Vlaardingen.
The industry's turnover rests on salted and pickled herring products. Approximately 600 people are employed within the sector. The seasonal supply of herring for matje curing is dealt with through the flexible deployment of temporary labour. The added value is estimated at 40 million. Calculated in terms of the wholesale value, more than half of herring products are destined for the domestic market.
Herring has a good image and a long tradition in Germany and the Netherlands. However, a number of products are at the end of the life cycle, and the development of new products on the basis of herring is therefore difficult.

Salmon and eel smokehouses

Approximately 20 smokehouses were active in 2005, with a combined turnover of around 90 million. There are approximately 300 jobs in this sector. Alongside the traditional smoking of eel and mackerel/herring, salmon smokehouses are also becoming more widespread. Smoked salmon has become an important part of the range of fish available in supermarkets. The retail trade turnover for smoked salmon has increased by 50% since the year 2000. A few companies have invested in new smokehouses since 1995.

Trade in sea-frozen pelagic fish

The trade in sea-frozen pelagic fish is connected with four shipping companies in IJmuiden and Scheveningen that are specialised in catching herring, mackerel, Atlantic horse mackerel, sardinella and blue whiting. 95% of the turnover (285 million) is linked with exports to countries in Africa and Asia.

Shellfish sector

Businesses in this sector are active in the trade and processing of fresh mussels, preserved mussels and preserved cockles. There are approximately ten companies, which achieved a total turnover of 220 million in 2005. The four largest companies have a very large share in this: almost 60%. The sector is going through a structural change as a consequence of the termination of mechanical cockle fishing in the Wadden Sea.
Employing a total of 750 people, and with added value of 60 million, the shellfish sector is the second most important sector within the Dutch fishing industry. Approximately 20% of the employees in this industry are on temporary contracts. Production takes place mainly within one's own establishment, and it strongly concentrated around Yerseke harbour. Many of the shellfish businesses are integrated with the supply sector. More than 60% of the shellfish sector's sales are to countries outside the Netherlands. Belgium and France are the most important sales countries for mussel companies. The share of production destined for export declined as a result of the disappearance of part of the cockle production, which was almost entirely for export to Spain.
The companies are now to a large extent dependent on the changing and - for the sake of environmental protection - limited supply of Dutch mussels. They are therefore limited in their opportunities for growth. Compared with other sectors, the shellfish sector manages to achieve greater added value. This is primarily due to factors such as marketing and the emphasis on products in consumer packaging, generally with greater added value.

Processing of common shrimp

The processing of common brown shrimp is taken care of by a group of five companies. This activity is dominated by two businesses in Zoutkamp and Volendam. These businesses have a combined turnover of approximately 315 million. Around 500 people are employed in this sector in the Netherlands. A significant proportion of processing activities is subcontracted to subsidiaries in Northern Africa. The most important companies integrate sales of common shrimp with the distribution of prawns/shrimp from Asia. Companies with no share in the processing of common shrimp also import prawns and shrimp from other countries. Calculated in terms of wholesale value, almost 500 million worth of prawns/shrimp passed through the Netherlands in 2005.

Domestic fish wholesale

This sector consists of wholesalers specialised in the distribution of fresh fish to Dutch retailers or large-scale consumers. The most important centres are Spakenburg and Volendam. There are currently about 1,200 people working in this sector. The total turnover amounts to 370 million and the 35 companies involved thus achieved 80 million in added value. Most companies offer a range that is as complete as possible to the Dutch market, incorporating both self-processed products and products purchased elsewhere. Approximately 12% of the turnover is exported to the retail trade in neighbouring countries.
This sector has the potential to be a growth segment. There are only restrictions in terms of raw material supplies for part of the range. Moreover, the Dutch market for fish products can undoubtedly be developed further. Fish consumption in the Netherlands has grown in volume by 26% since the year 2000. For a number of years, the growth in turnover was primarily seen in chain stores. The turnover for specialised retail trade has also grown since 2004, and this probably also applies to large-scale consumption.

Other fish processing and wholesale

Besides the specialised fish-processing companies, there are a further 23 companies recognised as fish processors. In addition, there are estimated to be a further few hundred businesses active as importers of fish-based semi-finished products and end products. These are wholesale companies without processing capacity. Important groups include chain stores, importers of fish from other countries, and also shipping agents or foreign suppliers who only make use of the services of the main Dutch ports. On the basis of the foreign trade statistics, it is estimated that this import trade results in a turnover of around 0.6 billion. There are estimated to be a total of 500 people working in this sector, and the added value is in the region of 35 million. Important products include deep-frozen blocks or fillets of whitefish, prawns/shrimp and preserves.
The quantity of fish brought onto the EU market via the Netherlands is growing. Calculated in terms of value, 25% more was imported in 2005 than in 2000. The largest proportion is destined for European buyers outside the Netherlands. European demand is developing faster than it is actually possible to fulfil on the basis of European fish species. There are therefore good opportunities for importers and logistical service providers.

Source: LEI; information: lei@wur.nl
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