What really spurs shoppers' seafood purchases?

Published on
September 5, 2017

Shoppers are most concerned with the appearance, smell, and taste of their purchases when they decide which fresh seafood items to buy, according to a recent survey out of Canada.

However, a conflicting survey out of the United States shows that sustainability is most important when shoppers are deciding which fish to purchase.

The latest survey, from Cargill Feed4Thought, found that 72 percent of American consumers believe seafood is important to their health and nutrition. A full 88 percent of those shoppers say they are willing to pay more for seafood that is certified as sustainably and responsibly sourced. 

The survey of 1,000 U.S. residents found that 93 percent of millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable and responsible seafood. In addition, Cargill found, 84 percent of Americans trust that their seafood is sourced in a safe and responsible way, and 70 percent of shoppers said that where and how their seafood is sourced impacts their purchase decisions.

"The majority of American consumers believe seafood is important to their health and nutrition, but they also want to have peace of mind as to where it came from – and that's where we can play an integral role," said Einar Wathne, president of Cargill Aqua Nutrition, which produces feed for salmon, tilapia, and shrimp aquaculture.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a survey of shoppers in several different areas of British Columbia, Canada, found that sensory qualities – specifically taste, smell, appearance – were the most important factor for consumers when choosing which seafood to buy at the store. 

Eighty percent of survey respondents “strongly agreed” that sensory qualities were the most important factor, while 67 percent includes the appearance of seafood among their three most important factors as to whether to buy it or not, according to the study published in the Journal of Ocean and Coastal Management.

“I wasn’t surprised that it ranked this high – no one wants to buy stinky fish – but that it was so dominant was surprising,” Grant Murray, associate professor of marine policy at Duke University and lead author of the study, told SeafoodSource. “If it is not attractive to the eye, or attractive by smell, it is not going to move, no matter how sustainable it is.”

Price was the second most important factor overall, and 41 percent of respondents strongly disagreed with the statement that “seafood was inexpensive.”

After the sensory qualities, health benefits, and price, shoppers ranked wild versus farmed as their fourth-most important factor when choosing seafood. Whether or not the fish is local was the fifth most important factor, and whether or not it is sustainable was ranked sixth.

Seventy-five percent of those surveyed said they purchase wild seafood, compared to about 20 percent who purchase farmed seafood. 

“Some people clearly prefer wild,” Murray said. 

Conversely, 52 percent said they “strongly disagree” that they purchase farmed seafood.

When presented with the statement, "I do not consider the sustainability of the species when I purchase seafood,” 45 percent said they “strongly disagree” and 16.6 percent said they “disagree.” On the other hand, 10.5 percent of shoppers said they “strongly agree” with the statement and 16.6 percent “agree.”

The bottom line: buying sustainable seafood is important to many shoppers, but is not the most important factor to most shoppers.

“Relying on consumers to prioritize sustainability in supermarkets should be tempered with knowing that they are weighing a lot of other factors that are important to them,” Murray said. “There is a lot out there. If we just educate consumers about sustainable seafood, that’s not enough. We need to factor in the other reasons that consumers are making choices.”

Contributing Editor

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