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Consumer Survey: Sustainability progress

Survey says farmed vs. wild, food safety trumps eco-friendly seafood

By Fiona Robinson
June 01, 2010

The editors at SeaFood Business have heard a lot of assumptions made over the past few years about what consumers do and don't know about sustainable seafood. Last fall we set out to find some current research on the topic and soon realized it didn't exist.

So we conducted a survey to determine consumer knowledge of, and attitudes toward, seafood sustainability. Are any messages concerning sustainability resonating with consumers? Are any of these messages influencing their purchases? We set out to determine this and more with the survey, which was conducted by the Perishables Group, a Chicago-based independent firm that specializes in research for the fresh food industry.

One of the top takeaways was that food safety is top-of-mind for consumers, whether they're purchasing seafood at a supermarket or a restaurant. Nearly one third of seafood consumers said food safety is the most important factor when purchasing seafood at a retail store; about a quarter said price is most important. For restaurant purchases, food safety was also the top priority, followed by specific type of seafood at 29 percent and price at 21 percent.

"We do a lot of these surveys in the perishable category. Food safety is almost never listed as the No. 1 concern," says Steve Lutz, executive VP of the Perishables Group.

Farmed seafood generally received higher sustainability ratings than similar wild products. Consumers believe farmed shrimp, catfish and tilapia are the best choices from a sustainability perspective. Consumers also tend to consider U.S.-produced 
seafood more favorably in terms of sustainability than imported seafood.

However, of the consumers who have a self-described knowledge of seafood sustainability, a significantly higher number (37 percent) believed wild seafood is more sustainable than farmed, compared with 29 percent of knowledgeable users who said farmed fish is more sustainable.

"The mindset of most 
consumers is not sustainability of a certain species, it's farmed or wild, or imported or domestic," says Lutz.

Consumers remember sustainable-seafood labels or messages at retail stores more than at restaurants: 19 percent of respondents recalled seeing a related label at a supermarket or other type of store, while only 13 percent could recall a sustainability message seen at a restaurant.

Overall, the awareness of sustainability certification and eco-labels is generally low and is dwarfed by the 62 percent of consumers who remembered seeing a label or message about wild or farmed at retail stores, with similar results noted for consumer messages recalled at restaurants.

The research showed low awareness of sustainability and eco-labels, but some look at it as a glass half full.

"I would be willing to bet that over time, from the 1990s to the present, the fact that the number of consumers has reached 35 percent who do look for sustainability when they buy seafood is a significant change," says Cathy Roheim, professor at the University of Rhode Island's Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics and director of the university's Sustainable Seafood Initiative. Roheim was on a panel discussion about the research during the Boston Seafood Show in March.

"It is quite natural that consumers look for the best value from among safe and high-quality seafood. But that an increasing proportion of them are also looking for sustainably-produced seafood shows how far the sustainable seafood movement has come," she says.

When it comes to seafood guides, 16 percent of consumers use a guide to decide what seafood to purchase. But of those 16 percent, only 17 percent could name the organization that produced the guide, and half mentioned that "guides" were in reference to price, freshness, type of seafood or date caught.



The research in this study was conducted by the Perishables Group and sponsored by Diversified Business Communications, SFB 's parent company. The online survey was conducted in February and included 1,000 seafood consumers nationwide. The data was collected and analyzed by the Perishables Group. A white paper with the full results of the survey data, including information broken down by seafood usage, will be available on www.SeafoodSource.com

Associate Publisher, Editor Fiona Robinson can be e-mailed at frobinson@divcom.com 



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