UK seafood consumption, purchasing habits shifting

Published on
August 9, 2012

Sainsbury’s new retail report, “Our Future with Fish,” delivered valuable insight into the seafood purchasing trends of UK consumers. It found that not only are Brits starting to eat a more diverse range of species and consuming two percent more fish per capita head than they were in 1975, but that their purchasing decisions are being increasingly influenced by what they watch on TV and view online.

With the country’s strong celebrity chef culture, it should come as no surprise that the report, compiled by market research company Future Foundation, found almost half of UK adults said the way they cook and eat fish is swayed by these small screen personalities; and 35 percent said they have been influenced by TV documentaries about fishing.

By comparison, just 24 percent of the people questioned felt supermarkets directly influenced their choices of fish. This shows that either the country’s supermarket chains have some ground to make up or that their efforts are going largely unacknowledged.

Yet supermarkets are the main gateway to seafood in the United Kingdom with an 87 percent share of the retail market in terms of consumer spend. According to Future Foundation, supermarkets have considerable power to influence the shopping choices of a large proportion of their customers. The report also found that retail campaigns are increasingly being “plugged in” to popular culture, often through the backing or involvement of celebrities, including TV chefs.

“These connections help make messages strong and lasting, and can dramatically shape shopping behavior,” the report said, but it advised that campaigns must encompass in-store promotions, social networking sites and traditional TV and print media.

“Messages need to connect with consumers’ everyday feelings, concerns and motivations, and tie-in with cultural trends.”

The report finds interest and awareness about nutrition, sustainability and provenance is growing and Future Foundation said the challenge for retailers is to encourage interest in more varieties of alternative, sustainable fish and to supply information that will help shoppers choose and cook fish with confidence.

“Often the issues are complex. This presents a challenge: how to communicate with customers in a way that leaves them feeling clear about the issues and the action they want to take. If they feel overburdened with detail, the risk is an ‘ignore-and-do-nothing’ approach.”

Nevertheless, the broadening purchasing habits of UK consumers will be welcome news for retailers and a pat on the back for store-wide campaigns such as Sainsbury’s “Switch the Fish,” which was launched in June last year and offered customers asking for one of the so-called “big five” species (cod, haddock, tuna, salmon and prawns) at the fish counter, a sustainable, lesser known alternative for free.

Sainsbury’s saw counter sales of these alternative varieties, such as coley, pouting, rainbow trout, hake and megrim total 524,000 units between July and December 2011, compared with 434,000 units in the same period in 2010 – an increase of 21 percent. What wasn’t divulged in the report was whether sales of the big five dropped as a result.

The report did say that “overcoming our inbuilt reluctance” to try new things is getting easier over time, with UK children and adults more willing to try new foods than in the past.

“Our increasingly cosmopolitan attitude toward eating is a fundamental driver of uptake for alternative fish, guaranteeing lively interest in alternative fish in coming years.

“Added to cosmopolitan lifestyle, is price. While alternative fish are not necessarily cheaper, species such as pollock and coley are more cost-effective alternatives to cod, and this will be an important factor in increasing levels of consumption in the future.”

If this alternative species trend becomes long-term it could provide a much-needed shot in the arm for the U.K. fishing fleet, which is becoming increasingly concerned by the downturn in traditional export markets.

Considerable volumes of the UK catch are shipped to Spain, Portugal and Italy, including most of the country’s megrim and hake, where they used to fetch a better market price. But the Eurozone crisis, along with a weakening euro against the pound, has sparked a dramatic downturn in the trade.

Sainsbury’s report believes there will be a “steady, continuing increase” in the proportion of fish sold in that’s outside the big five. From having a 34.7 percent share of all fish products sold today, alternative fish choices will account for just over half of fish products sold in 2030, the report said, which should hopefully bode well for the country’s fishermen.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500