Packed Like Sardines in Portugal

Sardine Canning in Portugal

Sardine Canning in Portugal

March 6th, 2021

After yesterday’s stroll around Tavira, today we’re taking a closer look at a heritage industry and food of Portugal: canned sardines. In the past 150 years there have been as many as 400 canneries operating in Portugal. Today there are only about 20 but the industry is thriving, shipping canned fish within Portugal and all over the world.

Canned sardines at Loja das Conservas

Canned sardines at Loja das Conservas

The sardine, a small silvery fish, is found in abundance along the lengthy coast of Portugal. Sardines have been fished here in the Atlantic for centuries, although the sardine population has declined and moved north to cooler water in the last several decades. This has led canning companies to expand their product offerings to other locally available options including mackerel, tuna, squid and octopus. Sardines are a main export of Portugal and a nutritious staple of the local diet — full of protein, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.

Loja das Conservas

Loja das Conservas

The sardine canning industry started in the late 1800s and experienced huge growth in the early 1900s as sardines grew in popularity. World War I created even more demand for sardines due to the need for non-perishable food items in the field. Sardines were also in demand during World War II but, since then, have gone in and out of culinary fashion. These days, they’re popular once again due in part to the eye-catching design and packaging of each canning company. But even a fresh sardine has timeless appeal — simply salt it, toss it on the grill and dinner is ready.

Loja das Conservas

Loja das Conservas

Loja das Conservas

Loja das Conservas

I was introduced to the booming trade of canned sardines at a little shop in Lisbon. Loja das Conservas features a wide variety of canned sardines from all over Portugal. In addition to hundreds of cans on display, the history of Portugal’s oldest and most successful canning companies is displayed with their products. Loja das Conservas also has a great website.

Loja das Conservas

Loja das Conservas

Reading about these canning companies, it’s clear that sustainability is becoming the most important issue of the industry. What was once a plentiful food source throughout the year is now a resource that must be managed if Portugal wants to keep the tradition and industry alive. Here are a few highlights about the featured canning companies, with photos and artwork from the displays:

Ramirez was founded in Vila Real de Santo (on the Guadiana between Portugal and Spain) by Sebastian Ramirez, owner of a salting factory business and textile manufacturing unit. He created the first canned fish factory in 1876. The company increased exports during WWI and also supplied canned sardines to the U.K., Belgium, Germany and the Red Cross in WWII. Ramirez now exports to 43 countries.

Expoconser

Expoconser

Located in Varzim, Expoconser was founded in 1994 after two companies merged, with history dating back to 1942. Fish in Expoconser’s products is separated and prepared by hand, and packed in cartonetes. They specialize in sardines, mackerel, tuna.

Briosa

Briosa

Briosa

Briosa

Briosa was founded in 1991 in Figueira da Foz (north of Lisbon) at the local fishing port. Being close to the daily catch is a source of pride for this family-run business.

Cofaco

Cofaco

Cofaco was formed in the Algarve in 1961. The following year, the company moved to the Azores — the location of the tuna migration — due to the lack of tuna off the coast of the Algarve.

Vianapesca, located in Viana do Castelo in northern Portugal, is one of the largest fishing cooperatives in the country. The company uses artisanal fishing methods for a wide variety of species, most of which are sold to Spain, France and Italy. Select reserves are used for canning.

Lucas & Co.

Lucas & Co.

Lucas was established in 1896 by Joaquim Pedro Ferreira Lucas. It was the first canning factory in Matosinhos, near Porto. Lucas & Co. was founded in 1920 by sons Domingos and Adriano. Production reached 8 million cans per year in the 1950s. Their products are popular in Greece.

Porthos

Porthos

Porthos (Portugal Norte)ย was also established in Matosinhos, after Lucas in 1912. This family-run business ships internationally to the Middle East, Far East, Europe, Africa and North America.

La Gondola was founded by Italians in Matosinhos in the 1980s. Their canned fish is exported to the EU, Mexico, U.S., Japan, Brazil and Canada. Fish are processed manually one by one, and sardines used by La Gondola are certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Santa Catarina

Santa Catarina

Santa Catarina canned fish comes from the Azores and Madeira. Fishermen work with pole and line from the Mestre Afonso, Maria Leontina and Bela Aurora boats plus other local vessels. This method of fishing is certified, environmentally friendly and dolphin safe. The practice employs the coastal population of Sao Jorge Island who make their living from fishing. Canned Santa Catarina fish is washed in sea water and cooked in brine just before being packaged. The company was originally founded in 1940.

Minhota Canned Sardines

Minhota Canned Sardines

Sardines are fresh and in season from June to October, and Lisbon hosts the Santo Antonio Festival (also known as the Festival of Sardines) every year from June 12th-14th. No matter what time of year, if you find yourself in Portugal be sure to try a sardine — fresh or canned — and check out the artistry of this historic industry still alive and fishing, feeding Portugal and the world.

More tomorrow,
Kelly

Post of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together. This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.

20 comments

  • What a lot of effort and research you put into this post, Kelly! It’s fabulous ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ Love the Lisbon shop. I’ll have to look for it next time I’m there.

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    • Thanks, Jo! All the credit goes to the shop and the history of the canneries they’ve posted with all the products. I’ve noted the highlights of the main ones but I hope you visit the store sometime for the full experience. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Packed sardines are nice for getting a quick eat ready. I see these packed sardines and mackerels in the super Market shelves, wonder if some of them are from portugal! Thanks to your very detailed post, now I want to check if we also receive some of those brands you mentioned.
    What I love best here is the cheery colourful cans they are packed in, the pictures are so Eastman colour and so 70s vibe.

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    • Yes! I don’t really like sardines that much but the colors and packaging are irresistible to me, as a designer especially. And definitely agree that the photos have a vintage quality. There are even more posted in the shop — some black and white from earlier in the 1900s. Let me know if you spot any of these brands in your local market! Hope you enjoyed the weekend. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  • Very interesting. I love sardines. Both fresh and tinned. And I stock up on tins when in Spain and Portugal.

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  • Very interesting research. The artistry on the can is stunning, especially in the last place. I would have trouble deciding which one to buy and would probably buy a few just to keep the cans!

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  • It’s like reading a documentary on the sardine industry, I wouldn’t have thought it was the trade to guess. In Toronto there is a Portuguese product that I buy regularly, the quince jam from Ferma

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    • We had no idea about the sardine trade until we visited. All the “research” included here is thanks to the history of the canneries posted in the store. It’s quite fun to read. I took 30 photos of all the displays and shared the highlights. Quince jam. So yum! Will have to look and see if we get the product from Ferma here. Goes great with a creamy French cheese.

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  • Being no fan of sardines, I thought to skim today …but no! Such an interesting read, and worth the time just to ogle the gorgeous tins. The shop is a total delight. I think I would have bought several of those wooden fish hanging from the ceiling!

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    • Aren’t the fish so cute?! The whole shop was really fun. We probably spent 45 minutes looking at everything and reading all the history. I’m not much of a sardine fan either but as a designer the tins are like candy to me! Thanks for reading! Have been surprised at how much everyone enjoyed this post. Hope you had a great weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

  • I had no idea there are so many varieties of canned sardines! And such pretty packaging too ๐Ÿ™‚
    Alison

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  • Pingback: On to the Alentejo |

  • The colorful tins would make me buy some, even though I would never eat them! ๐ŸŒž

    Liked by 1 person

  • Love this colorful workplace tour! And I’m especially taken with that first image — a poster, I suppose. I’m surprised this was all so open and available to you — but it still doesn’t make me want to eat sardines. I, too, just love the tins.

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