By Christine Blank, SeafoodSource contributing editor
Published on 26 February, 2013
Retailers and foodservice operators say that more consumers are buying sustainable seafood than was conveyed in the recent Truven Health Analytics-NPR survey.
In the survey of approximately 3,000 Americans, 32 percent said that it is important to them that the seafood they purchase is sustainably caught, and 21 percent said it is “very important” that their seafood is sustainable. In addition, 22 percent of Americans said they would be willing to pay between 10 to 20 percent more for sustainably-caught seafood, while 51 percent said they would not be willing to pay extra for sustainable seafood.
“Here in the Pacific Northwest, sustainability as a factor in purchasing is higher than 32 percent. Up here, people eat fresh, wild seafood,” Bob Donegan, president of Seattle-based Ivar’s, a chain of quick-service and full-service seafood restaurants, told SeafoodSource. In fact, 91 percent of Ivar’s guests said that sustainability and local sourcing is a “big factor” in deciding where to eat out, in its recent survey of 400 guests.
Mary Smith, marketing manager for Santa Monica Seafood in Santa Monica, Calif., which operates two stores with cafes, has also seen a much higher interest from shoppers for sustainable seafood.
“Our customers tell us they are willing to pay more sustainable seafood just by walking in the door. Our seafood is generally more expensive than other retailers, but you get what you pay for. In our case, that is consistently fresh seafood that is responsibly sourced and carefully ‘curated’ in the case,” Smith told SeafoodSource.
However, many consumers do not “consciously consider the sustainability of their choices,” according to Stephen Gyland, owner of Cod & Capers Seafood, North Palm Beach, Fla. “The driving factor in the buying decision seems to be quality first and value second. Only speaking about our market and guests, I would have to say that inquiries about the sustainability of a choice is the least-asked question that we encounter,” Gyland said.
Meanwhile, the survey demonstrated a challenge that the industry has been struggling with for years: sustainable seafood labels are confusing to consumers. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they were only “somewhat confident” about sustainability labels, and 19 percent were “not at all confident.”
“As a consumer, I would have found it difficult to embrace the MSC certification process without reservations. The mission statement by NOAA on their Fish Watch web site — as well as the wealth of really good information — is much less misleading and confusing for the consumer. We rely on and refer to this source often,” Gyland said.