People around the world are eating more fish from farms than from the open sea for the first time ever. This has spurred billions of dollars of takeovers as one of the largest food companies seeks to capitalize on rising demand.

The latest buyer to enter the fray is Cargill Inc., the world’s biggest grain trader and a meat supplier, which said Monday it agreed to acquire Norwegian salmon-feed business EWOS Holding AS for $1.5 billion.

Fish consumption is growing at a faster pace than beef, pork and poultry, driven by an expanding, increasingly prosperous global population that recognizes the health benefits of eating seafood. Demand is forecast by the United Nations to outstrip supply in coming years. Wild fish aren’t going to fill the gap, and that leaves farming in lakes and coastal waters — also known as aquaculture — to make up the shortfall.

“We can expect that large companies active in commodities, animal proteins and life sciences will be considering this industry and how they can play a role in the growth of what some call the Blue Revolution, the growth of marine farming of food and feed,” Gorjan Nikolik, a Rabobank International seafood-industry analyst, said by phone from Utrecht, the Netherlands.


M&A Rush

The M&A rush has so far seen the $4 billion takeover of Dutch salmon-feed supplier Nutreco NV by SHV Holdings NV in April after Cargill withdrew a competing offer. Mitsubishi Corp., Japan’s biggest trading house, bought Norwegian salmon-farmer Cermaq ASA for $1.4 billion in November. The EWOS deal will turn Minneapolis-based Cargill into one of the top three aqua-feed producers, according to Nikolik.

The impact of a growing global population on protein consumption is daunting: Demand is set to grow by 70 percent by 2050, according to Sarena Lin, president of Cargill’s feed and nutrition business.

“Aquaculture has such development potential that you can see big farm feed organizations getting into the business as well now,” said Jacqueline Alder, an analyst at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. “The Cargill move might get the other feed companies thinking about moving into that as well.”

Global consumption of fish and seafood has expanded every year since at least 2000 and growth is expected to continue through 2019, with China being the biggest market, according to consumer research company Euromonitor International.


Rising Incomes

Rising incomes in emerging markets and the recognition of the health benefits will prompt fish consumption to increase to 261 million metric tons by 2030, according to the FAO. That will outstrip supplies estimated at 211 million tons, said the agency, which estimates consumption of farmed fish exceeded wild catches for the first time in 2014.

“As wealth grows in developing regions, fish and seafood is becoming more affordable,” said Anastasia Alieva, head of fresh food research at Euromonitor. “Fish and seafood is perceived as a healthier source of protein than meat in many countries,” especially where obesity is a concern, she said.

Global aquaculture production will need to rise as much as 5 percent a year through 2020 if supplies are to meet demand, according to Rabobank.

The industry has huge potential to expand, according to FAO’s Alder. Aquaculture’s share of fish production is expected to increase to 58 percent by 2030, she said.

“You’ve got lakes that you can expand into, you’ve got the ocean,” she said by phone from Rome. “Some of these other commodities like cattle, you’ve really started to hit some of the limits in terms of space.”

Image credit:  Devin Hunter | Flickr
Via Bloomberg