Ecuadorian shrimp producer PCC Group said it expects sales to grow by around 15 percent this year, despite the company carrying out an overhaul of production processes.

PCC, with annual sales of around $41 million (€39 million), sees investments in technology and other efficiency savings as key to overcoming soaring raw material cost pressures battering the sector.

The Guayaquil-based seafood processor is also increasing its output of value-added products to boost sales and margins.

PCC, which annually exports around 20 million pounds of shrimp, led a general trend among its peers, shifting away from an overwhelming reliance on the Chinese market.

"Our main priority is to diversify," PCC Director Patricio Cobos Cordova told IntraFish at the recent Seafood Expo Global trade fair in Barcelona.

China once accounted for half of PCC's exports, but the company turned to markets such as Italy, the United States, Japan and Russia, before its invasion of Ukraine complicated matters.

Since the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, shrimp shipments from Ecuador have been increasingly ensnared by checks, restrictions and sanctions.

Throughout the pandemic, Ecuador's shrimp producers have insisted any discoveries of COVID-19 must have come from contact with external sources as the goods pass through a long chain of custody on their way to their final destination.

More than 1,000 containers from numerous companies, each carrying around $150,000 (€142,420) worth of Ecuadorian shrimp, are currently being prevented from entering Chinese ports because of stringent COVID-19 checks.

Shrimp producer Santa Priscila is among 15 Ecuadorian companies slapped with bans ranging from one to 13 weeks on their products entering China under the Asian nation's COVID-19 zero tolerance policy.

But unhappy with what they saw as unjustified and overbearing checks on Ecuadorian shrimp for diseases such as yellowhead, white spot and infectious hypodermal and haematopoietic necrosis virus (IHHNV), PCC executives didn't wait for the pandemic to intervene to halt shipments to China.

The South American nation routinely trumpets its reputation for the deployment of lower stocking densities and naturally disease-resistant shrimp, while shunning the overuse of antibiotics and genetics in its products.

Ecuador's global shrimp exports were up 44 percent to 525 million pounds in the first quarter, although there are fears a Chinese economic slowdown could burst the bubble.

The US market, meanwhile, is looking increasingly strong for the group with foodservice having all but recovered and retail demand strong.

"People are seeing shrimp as a potential everyday protein in the United States," he said.