Scottish seafood mix

A recent survey undertaken for Seafood Scotland on its three top export markets — France, Spain and Italy — provided little in the way of surprises. However, despite a downturn in seafood consumption in each of the three markets, the news wasn’t all bad.

Analysis by consultant Bruno Correard showed that, as in the United Kingdom, consumers in France, Spain and Italy are feeling the effects of an economic slowdown throughout Europe and are being more value conscious, trading down to less expensive products for home consumption. They are also dining out less frequently, though they are still occasionally treating themselves and trading up to more expensive products.

Correard found that in France last year seafood consumption fell 2 kilograms to its 2008 level of 34.5 kilograms per capita. This was mainly attributed to a 3 percent decline in fresh fish consumption, the price of which increased around 16 percent compared to 2010.  

In Spain, poor catches and price hikes have turned consumers away from turbot, sea bream, clams, mackerel and squid and toward less expensive species such as hake, whiting and anchovy. In Spain between June 2010 and June 2011 seafood consumption slipped 5.8 percent, with shellfish purchases down 12.7 percent and frozen and canned seafood purchases up 3.8 percent and 1 percent, respectively. 

In Italy last year, seafood consumption dropped 4.8 percent, with fresh fish consumption sliding 6.4 percent. The species most affected were shrimp, squid, anchovies, red mullet, hake and Atlantic cod, plus farmed trout and salmon.

However, the governments in each of the three countries are reacting to the downturn in seafood consumption by forging ahead with consumer campaigns pushing seafood’s health attributes and encouraging consumption of local fish.

Spain, for instance, is capitalizing on its 2011 “Disfruta comiendo pescado!” (Enjoy eating fish) campaign, raising awareness of the health benefits of eating fish and promoting seafood consumption in school canteens (four times per week). France has also endorsed seafood consumption in schools and added a “responsibly fished” angle for good measure.

In Italy, campaigns undertaken in the Liguria region to promote less expensive fish species with high nutritional value under the “pesce povero” and “pesce ritrovato” (poor fish and fish found) programs will be extended to other geographic areas, including the city of Bologna. These types of messages will be mirrored in hospitals and civil institutions, supported by consumer associations in France, Spain and Italy.

In addition to health benefits, locally produced seafood is also garnering attention. France AgriMer is launching a domestic eco-label for responsibly caught local seafood this year, and Spain’s MercaValencia wholesale market is extending its “Nuevas pescaderias” (new fish shops) project, which facilitated the opening of new traditional fish counters in downtown Valencia. MercaAlicante is interested in taking this further, and discussions are under way with other markets across the country.

Correard warned in the report that Scottish seafood exporters need to pay greater attention to on-pack information, particularly related to health benefits and fishing methods. They also need to provide traceability information to consumers in a convenient manner, be innovative and emphasize value, and develop ready-to-eat products that will attract the growing number of consumers looking for convenience.

However, concluded Correard, Spain, France and, to a lesser extent, Italy will continue to be key markets for Scottish seafood in all forms, despite a lagging European economy.

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