Britain’s big problem

Published on
September 20, 2011

Just a few months ago, after attending a Sustainable Fish Supper, organized as part of the Project Ocean campaign,  I questioned whether UK consumers were engaged with sustainability. Today, I find myself asking a more unsettling question — are  consumers sufficiently engaged with seafood?

At the supper there seemed to be a genuine lack of concern from the attending diners on sustainability issues, despite the clearly defined nature of the event. I felt I had been given something of a reality check — I realized I had been naive to think UK consumers would appreciate the importance of responsible sourcing as much as the people who work within the seafood industry. 

Returning to the present, the catalyst for this new concern is a problem highlighted by one of the country’s leading seafood executives — Leendert den Hollander, CEO of Young’s Seafood Ltd., the UK’s largest retail fish brand.

Last week, den Hollander — who took up his current role in February following the consolidation of the Findus businesses (Young’s Seafood, The Seafood Co. and Findus UK) into the single entity, Young’s Seafood Ltd. — publicly warned that there’s a great difference between how much seafood the population should be eating and what it’s actually consuming.

Speaking in London at a conference on the reform of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), organized by the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum, he stressed that there’s an urgent need for the entire seafood industry to communicate better with consumers and to push the health benefits of eating seafood.

The Young’s chief explained that a recent company survey had shown there was considerable scope for UK consumers to increase their seafood consumption. At present, the UK population eats seafood on average only 1.4 times per week, against a government recommendation of at least twice a week. 

Young’s survey found that one in five people had never heard of pollock, one in 10 people thought John Dory was a candidate for the next U.S. presidential election and that 1 in 10 children thought haddock was a planet.

Initially, such results seem amusing, even absurd. However, den Hollander revealed a much more worrying finding from the survey — that 40 percent of the Brits surveyed never cooked fish.

It has been regularly documented in the past that there’s considerable scope for improving the UK’s per-capita seafood consumption, but can it really be this bad? Young’s seems to think so, and this worrying statistic is probably enough to keep a marketing expert such as den Hollander awake at night. 

He suggested that two ways to boost consumption would be to persuade people to feel more confident about eating seafood and to eat more of the less popular species. He acknowledged that the latter is easier said than done. Currently, five species — cod, salmon, tuna, haddock and prawns — account for 80 percent of consumption. 

Yet den Hollander believes consumers are ready to try different species. There is a need, however, to educate people about the lesser-known species first, and he stressed that all species should come from sustainable sources. 

Familiarizing consumers with seafood, let alone convincing the public to eat fish regularly, is no small feat, but it’s one den Hollander and other leading seafood executives are committed to accomplishing.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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