Seafood farming certification program gains traction in Europe
Two recent studies by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) have shown that the organization is on track with its program to encourage Europeans to eat more certified seafood.
The ASC conducted the research to study the recognition of and positive associations with its consumer label, and awareness and understanding of its certified seafood logo. The research was carried out in The Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, where retailers have embraced the label for responsibly farmed seafood, and where a total of 1,174 products are on sale. Dutch retailers currently offer 425 pangasius, salmon, tilapia, trout and shrimp products, German retailers 415 products, and Swiss retailers 334 products. Globally, there are currently 3,231 products available.
“We are working hard to transform the world’s seafood markets. Aquaculture already accounts for more than half of all seafood consumed around the globe, and it will become more important over the next few decades. Our mission is to ensure that it is produced in a responsible manner, and to help consumers purchase seafood that fits this criteria,” said ASC CEO Chris Ninnes.
In both The Netherlands and Germany, the level of recognition by fish-buying consumers of the ASC label showed steady growth in 2015, exceeding that of the previous year’s study. The research was carried out for the first time in Switzerland, where almost a third of the sample recognized the label.
Asked if they had positive associations with the ASC logo, consumers in all three countries gave encouraging replies. In Switzerland almost half (47.1 percent) of the respondents who recognized the label had a positive association with it. In the Netherlands, 43.6 percent of fish buyers replied positively, while German consumers were just behind at 39.3 percent.
“As a young organization, we are very pleased with these results, as our label has been on packs for less than three years,” stated Ninnes.
“With ethical, fair trade, responsible and sustainable logos becoming an ever more important decision-making tool when making purchases, it was good to see that well over half of all fish buyers in all three countries think the ASC logo is a good development that makes them feel more confident when buying ASC-certified products, and helps to make the choice of fish easier for them,” he said.
“We also wanted to see if the logo was influencing buying behavior, and to identify general attitudes to farmed seafood, and the results have helped us to identify areas to build on to make the logo and consumer understanding of it even stronger,” added Ninnes.
The study showed that awareness of the ASC logo was at a similar level in the Netherlands and Switzerland, with around one third of all fish buyers now aware of it, while in Germany this figure was around one quarter. In all three countries, more work needs to be done to help shoppers understand that the ASC logo represents farmed seafood.
In Germany and the Netherlands, 69 percent (Switzerland 79 percent) of people in the study thought that it was important to ensure that supermarkets sell responsibly farmed fish, but a similar number (49 percent Switzerland) was unaware that half of all retailers’ fish is farmed, rather than wild.
Less than one quarter of the sample in the Netherlands and Germany knew what type of fish they usually bought, and this rose to one third in Switzerland, leaving plenty of room for ASC and retailers to undertake promotional work on the type of fish available and the attributes of individual species.
The number of people expressing concern about the negative impacts of aquaculture on the environment has declined over the past two years, perhaps due to increasing efforts by aquaculture companies to stress its positive attributes. Concerns expressed by respondents included use of antibiotics, prevention of water pollution, animal welfare and quality control on the farm.
Analysis of buying behavior found similar results across the three countries, with around one third of respondents buying fish one or more times per week, and around one quarter buying it once or less often per month. Frozen fish was a favorite purchase in Germany and the Netherlands and chilled fish the most popular in Switzerland.
Health benefits, type of fish and price were the most important considerations mentioned when making a seafood purchase. Between one quarter and one third of fish buyers claimed that buying fish with the ASC logo was more important than the price of fish, and a similar number would seek out another supermarket if the one they were shopping in did not offer responsibly farmed fish.
“As our certification program continues to grow, an increasing number and variety of ASC-certified products will become available to consumers. This makes it important for us to get the ground work underway to help shoppers embrace the exciting ethical and responsibly farmed choices denoted by the ASC logo,” said Ninnes.