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Zamboanga Sardine Canners Set Sights on Eastern European Market

ZAMBOANGA CITY—Canned sardine firms in this city that have upgraded their production to conform to international food safety and quality standards are looking to enter new markets in Russia and other European countries.

They will be among the Philippine exhibitors attending the 19th World Food Moscow Show, with support from the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and USAID’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) program.

“There are still a lot of promising markets for Mindanao sardine exports,” said William Lim, CEO of Mega Fishing Corporation.

In 2008, Zamboanga’s exported just 13,000 metric tons of canned sardines, worth approximately $16 million.

“Zamboanga is still not so well-known,” said Leoncio Kaw, managing director of Universal Canning Inc., “We need to educate the market on the capability of our sardine industry.”

The Moscow show, which will run from September 14 to 17, is expected to draw more than 50,000 visitors, mostly from the Russian Federation and neighboring countries such as Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.

The Russian Federation has shown a remarkable increase in seafood imports, which have tripled in value from $630 million in 2004 to $1.9 billion in 2008.

This consumer trend, combined with a canned sardine supply-demand gap caused by a shortage of sardines from the Baltic States, spells opportunity for Zamboanga canneries.

According to an assessment by the GEM Program, the P3-billion sardine fishing and processing industry in Zamboanga City provides over 10,000 direct jobs.

It produces a minimum of 15 million cases of canned sardine per year, utilizing 140,000 to 175,000 metric tons of raw material sourced from fishing grounds less than 15 hours away.

Sustainability of the sardine resource will be assured under the Sulu Sea Sardine Management Plan which is being reviewed by government and the private sector.

All of the Zamboanga canneries are HACCP- certified (Hazards Analysis and Critical Control Point) for domestic distribution, and the four canneries now engaged in export—Mega, Universal Canning, Permex, and Columbus Canning (Century Pacific Group)— have upgraded their production systems further in compliance with European Union standards.

“Improvement has to be a continuous process,” said Lim. “European buyers in particular are very careful. They want to see the plant and its operations.”

With GEM’s technical assistance, Mega, followed by Universal Canning, have invested in specialized vacuum and suction-pressure pumps for use in their transshipment and offloading operations.  

The sardines are “vacuumed” out of the ship’s nets at the catch site and pumped directly into holding tanks of chilled water. The salt water suctioned along with the sardines has a cushioning effect and prevents bruising.

The fish are then offloaded at port, using a suction-pressure pump, into polyurethane-insulated containers which meet the industry standards of the European Union (EU) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The new system has made operations more efficient and increased the pre-processing shelf life of the sardines by three to five days, in contrast to the 12-hour shelf life resulting from traditional handling methods.

“These methods are bringing the industry to another level, where operations are integrated from the catching to canning,” said Lim, whose company has also acquired ISO22000 certification for export.

He added that the improved catching and handling technologies have resulted in sardines with a brighter color, firmer flesh and fresher taste.

“Other countries engaged in exporting sardines may have lower labor costs, but in terms of quality, Zamboanga has an edge,” said Kaw.

“European canneries use larger, oilier fish,” Lim said. “I would say these are not as good as Philippine sardines, which are more delicate in flavor and texture, and more readily absorb the sauces they are packed in.”

Although geared toward the export market, the sardine canning industry’s new food safety standards and improved processing and packaging will also benefit consumers in the Philippines, where canned sardines are the lowest-priced source of animal protein.

“The new technologies and international standards adopted by the industry means that Filipinos can buy sardines of consistently good quality,” Lim said.

Currently, about 90 percent of Zamboanga’s sardine cannery production is consumed by the domestic market.


Published in Zamboanga Today, September 10, 2010;
Daily Zamboanga Times
, September 10, 2010;
www.businessweekmindanao.com, September 20, 2010;
www.mb.com.ph, September 10, 2010;
Manila Bulletin, September 11, 2010;
www.mindanao.com, September 11, 2010;
www.mb.com.ph, September 15, 2010;
pinoyblogger.net, September 15, 2010;
ph.yahoo.com, September 15, 2010;
Manila Bulletin, September 16, 2010;
Manila Times
, September 20, 2010