From Boston: Insights on Sustainable Seafood

The "sustainability" message is clearly missing the mark. The confusion was clear at a presentation and panel discussion at the International Boston Seafood Show on Sunday morning. The Seafood Business Summit: Consumer Insights on Sustainable Seafood, focused on consumer insights on sustainability at the retail level. According to research conducted by the Perishables Group, only 1 in 5 consumers recalled the sustainability message in the retail marketplace. Also, some of the results of the survey were downright frightening. 

Although the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute does a fantastic job of educating the public and promoting wild Alaska fisheries, "farmed" ranked higher than "wild" in terms of sustainability. However, some of the high points of this dismal research indicated that there is hope, especially with the younger groups. Of consumers 34 and younger, 33% identified themselves as knowledgeable about the issue of sustainability. The consumers who were most knowledgeable on the issue also had the highest percentage of weekly fish consumption, many making weekly fish purchases. 

The most popular of the eco-labels was the World Wildlife Fund, achieving a fair amount of recognition, with 19% of the consumers stating that they recognized the mark. This may be due to the fact that the WWF as an organization is fairly credible and recognizable.

My favorite part of the panel discussion was the presentation given by Larry Andrews of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, who compared ASMI's market research with the market study done by the Perishables Group. Their results differed vastly, with the majority of the ASMI's market participants preferring wild Alaskan products over farmed products. As an Alaska seafood industry person, I was very satisfied that he brought that difference up, as sometimes the message gets lost in the jargon presented in the survey, with consumers perhaps not understanding some of the terminology presented in the study. 

For instance, some consumers may not understand what an "eco-label" is, but may understand generally what the term sustainability means. For the majority of consumers surveyed by the Perishables Group study, "sustainability" referred to the "long-term viability of maintaining the species."  Of the group who considered themselves the most knowledgeable on the issue of sustainability, 45% of these consumers used some type of sustainability guide, such as the guide produced by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.     

The message for seafood retailers? Keep it smart, and aim for the younger crowds.

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