Launching with confidence

Published on
October 13, 2011

It’s fair to say in solemn economic times such as these that price is the most important driver for most consumers’ everyday purchases, but it certainly isn’t the only reason people are putting seafood products in their shopping basket. 

There’s a raft of tools at the disposal of processors and retailers that enable them to add value and create points of difference between their own products and the competition without the need to slash prices. The problem in marketing to a vastly diverse bloc like Europe, with a population in excess of 850 million, is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, the trick is to choose the most appropriate instrument for each market. 

This is not the treacherous minefield that it initially seems. Fortunately, a lot of research that looks at what markets want from products has already been undertaken.

Recently in London to deliver Marine Harvest’s latest retail trend analysis, Kristof Werbrouck, a marketing executive in the aquaculture giant’s Belgium office, revealed that “health and nutrition” and “clean label” have been the two main drivers for launching new seafood products in European markets over the last five years.

While the health and nutritional benefits of seafood have been broadly touted for several years, clean labeling is more of an anomaly for many inside and outside the industry. Essentially, while there’s no industry standard for clean label, it’s a phrase that’s becoming increasing used by food and drink manufacturers to describe products made with ingredients that consumers understand. It’s also often used, as Marine Harvest has done, to categorize products that contain no artificial ingredients, additives or preservatives.

“Health and nutrition is a very good area in which to invest,” Werbrouck said. “And people are driving the movement toward clean label products, pure ingredients and natural flavor, rather than artificial additives.”

He said that organic, non-genetically modified (non-GM), and eco-labeling are becoming increasingly important drivers, but added that in the case of eco-labels Marine Harvest believes consumers don’t want to have to worry about the sustainability of a product. “If it’s in store then it should be responsibly sourced.”

Organic is a relatively high sales driver in the highly evolved markets of France, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, he said.

What Werbrouck found “a bit strange” from Marine Harvest’s analysis was that convenience as a purchase driver had reached “a saturation point,” while the trend for microwaveable food in particular was in decline. 

The company has deduced from this that Europeans have embarked on a trend whereby they now want to do more meal preparation themselves. 

Convenience does, however, remain very important to consumers in the Netherlands, Spain and Italy.

A more sobering realization that came out of Marine Harvest’s data was the finding that taste — surely one of seafood’s greatest assets — is underperforming. “People are not buying on taste alone,” cautioned Werbrouck. “[Our analysis] shows it’s important to gauge what’s important to consumers in the countries you are selling to. After all, claims are the bridge between the fish and your customers.”

In the past it has been suggested that seafood processors could learn a lot from the meat and poultry sectors, yet, as Marine Harvest has found, there are subtle differences that should be factored in when attempting to appeal to retailers and consumers through this approach of hanging on to the coattails of a more dynamic category.

While Marine Harvest discovered that health and nutrition is also the main driver in the meat category, it also learned that whereas properties such as omega-3 content are most important in the fish sector, low allergen seems to be the primary concern with meat products. Organic is equally important in both categories, noted Werbrouck.

He also suggested that although poultry is a much larger industry than seafood, it’s worth considering in which areas chicken, for example, is more active. Because, in Werbrouck’s opinion, there’s no reason why fish cannot eventually be where poultry is now, in terms of application and product diversity. 

There have been 1,370 new salmon products launched in Russia, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom in the last two years, compared with 2,700 for poultry, he said.

“On the whole, fish may be more expensive,” he said, “but there are clear opportunities.”

However, to appeal to a much bigger consumer audience, Werbrouck believes it’s important to play down claims that allude to problems within the seafood industry as a whole. For example, eco-labeling and sustainability claims imply that somewhere stocks are being overfished.

“What’s making people buy more of a certain product are the attractive claims, not the defensive claims,” he said.

Werbrouck and Marine Harvest have a strong argument. With per-capita consumption of seafood stagnating in some key markets, there’s certainly a case for companies focusing on strategies geared toward “how can we promote this product in the marketplace” and “how can we add value and generate volume” rather than the preachy approach of “how can we better educate consumers,” which seems to have dominated European retail in recent times with mixed success.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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