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September 18, 2013

United States

Texas—Resistance to High Shrimp Prices

 

With the rapid rise in prices for imported and domestic shrimp, restaurants, grocery stores and distributors struggle to keep their customers happy.

 

The price increase is primarily due to a bacterial disease on shrimp farms in Southeast Asia.  Also, the shrimp catch in the Gulf of Mexico is not at peak levels this year.

 

Restaurants: Chef Randy Evans, chef and co-owner at the Haven restaurant in Houston, Texas, can’t take Gulf shrimp completely off his menu because shrimp corndogs are among his signature appetizers, but he will probably reduce the number of entrees that include shrimp.  Evans said, the price for shrimp “is crazy high” right now, rising from around $3 a pound a while ago to $6.90 a pound at the end of May 2013.  He hasn’t raised the price on corndogs, but he said if the wholesale cost goes higher he might—or he might switch to a smaller, less expensive shrimp.

 

As shrimp prices rise, Houston-based Landry’s, which owns more than 500 restaurants, has been “strategically enhancing” its menus, said Rick Liem, the company’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, saying more focus is being put on other types of seafood, including fish, lobster and crab.  He said he expects shrimp prices to continue to “increase dramatically”.

 

Chris Shepherd, chef at the Underbelly restaurant in Houston said, shrimp already is “astronomically expensive.  I don’t know too many people who don’t like shrimp,” he said, “but we don’t use it as much.”  Shepherd traditionally uses shrimp as a garnish when serving other fish, but now, he said, “it has to take center stage” or he won’t use it.

 

Grocery Stores: Joy Partain, consumer affairs manager at Kroger, the largest grocery store chain in the United States, said grocers are doing their best to keep retail shrimp prices down.  “Although shrimp prices are higher across the board for all retail buyers,” grocers decided to absorb “some of the inflated costs.”

 

Cyndy Garza-Roberts, public affairs director at HEB Grocery Company, with more than 350 stores in Texas and Mexico, said it has raised prices as “the demand for Gulf Coast shrimp is high and catches are down,” but she added that the chain is committed to “maintaining the lowest possible prices.”

 

Distributors: Hector Medellin, who oversees business development at Seafood Wholesalers, a Houston-based importer and distributor, said,  “There’s a huge hole in the market.  It’s not ‘How much is shrimp?’, but ‘Do you have shrimp?’.  I’ve never seen anything like this where shrimp actually goes up by the hour.”

 

Jim Gossen, chairman of Sysco Louisiana Foods, a seafood distributor and manufacturer acquired by Houston-based food distributor Sysco last year, said demand for shrimp of all kinds continues to grow.  Last September, Gossen said wholesale prices for large imported shrimp averaged $7.50 per pound; this month, they go for $9.40.  Recently, restaurants have been less likely to offer shrimp specials, he said, because it becomes hard to turn a profit.

 

Shrimp Fishermen: The higher prices are welcome news for shrimp fishermen.  Andrea Hance, who operates a shrimp boat with her husband out of Brownsville, Texas, said the couple is now getting wholesale buyers wanting to buy the entire contents of their boat “before it hits the dock.”  That has not happened in her area in a decade.

 

Source: Seafood.com (an online, subscription-based, fisheries news service).  Editor and Publisher, John Sackton (phone 1-781-861-1441, email jsackton@seafood.com).  Foodservice Tries to Use Less Shrimp, Retail Absorbing Some of the Price Increase.  September 17, 2013.

 

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