The recent tragedy in Japan will affect the global food supply--especially with seafood--but it also will provide an opportunity for American food suppliers and retailers to increase their market share, this according to Phil Lempert, a leading food industry expert.
"This might just be the event that triggers the reverse of our dependence on Asia for cheap foods," Lempert says. "Americans might complain about the increase in food prices, but will pay for the safety of their food supply."
According to Lempert, over the years food from China has been a concern to retailers and consumers alike and we can expect that food from Japan may also join the list. However, there's no doubt that the seafood supply will be directly affected.
"The length and degree of seafood supply disruptions from Japan and China to the United States will clearly take time to determine, however, Asian seafood exports won't likely be available in the U.S. for a significant period," says Lempert.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Americans have developed a growing taste for seafood – more than 16 pounds per capita – and Lempert says it's unlikely to stay on hold until Asian sources are sailing once again.
Lempert says, "Seafood prices at U.S. retailers will have to rise until Asian supplies come on stream again, and then a price war could ensue. Time will tell which U.S. fisheries could step up without overfishing and damaging their own resources. But between the Gulf of Mexico oil drilling disaster and continuing questions about the feed on fish farms, there are limits to the aggressiveness of U.S. resources to fill a large demand gap."
However, expect to see more "produced or made in America" signage as supermarkets start to promote foods from U.S. – like Gulf shrimp instead of shrimp from China – especially as the prices of the Asian imports rise.
According to Canada's Agri-Food Trade Service, China alone, the world's top producer and consumer of fish and seafood products, exported more than $11.5 billion in fish and seafood products in 2009 – 20 percent of it to the U.S. By contrast, the U.S. exported to China less than $500 million worth of fish and seafood products in 2009.
Japanese combined exports of fisheries, farm and forestry products rose 13.1 percent to $2.38 billion – 35 percent of it to the U.S., the Japanese Farm Ministry reports, in a Japan Today account.
Lempert says, "If supplies remain short, prices should remain higher longer, and the focus on the integrity of fish sourcing will only intensify."