Tuna prices up 5%

An unexpected rise in tuna prices due to poor catches took processors by surprise during the seasonal break. Reports from Bangkok confirm an increase of 5% for frozen skipjack. Normally prices weaken in the new year due to a drop in demand and steady fishing. "We were caught out, having run stock down in anticipation of lower prices later this month ," said a source in Bangkok

Conservationists have been critical of fishing companies, quoting statistics showing a trend towards smaller fish as proof of over-fishing.

Others blame the El Niño effect, which has raised sea temperatures in the Pacific. UK importers expect higher fob prices to come through in the second quarter, forcing a review of promotional activity.

"When we have had unexpected increases in the past, retailers have tried to keep prices unchanged and maintain margins by reducing promotional funding," said an importer.

Salmon up 30%

Pre-Christmas salmon promotions were on target with the emphasis on 213g cans as opposed to previous years when 418g featured prominently. The range of promotions showed how retailers were trying to be more imaginative. Although bogof is still the favourite, this year some retailers used '96%-free' or the traditional one-off price cut, ie £1.19 for 213g. With a depleted Alaskan pack, pink salmon fob prices have risen 50% and, even allowing for the stronger sterling, cost prices to retailers will be up 30%. Whether retail prices will rise much or whether retailers will be prepared to cut their margins to maintain consumer interest remains to be seen.

Mackerel prices ease

Mackerel prices have eased due to a weaker euro, but with demand threatening to outstrip supply throughout Europe, UK traders believe there will be price increases by mid-year. Younger consumers are attracted by the nutritional claims attached to the oily fish.

Tomatoes eyeing 5 million tonnes again

The Italian tomato season has only just ended, having been extended into October after a late start in southern Italy. Negotiations between growers and processors will start in three weeks time for this year's programme. Tonnage was down 20% to 4.3 million tonnes last season compared with 5.3 million the year before. The result was a firm market, profitable for growers and processors. Processors will want to see more plantings, arguing at least 5 million tonnes could be sold.