Will consumers pay more for sustainable seafood?

Published on
March 2, 2016

While traceability , sustainability and other factors are now much more important to consumers when shopping or eating out, many consumers are not willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to these distinctions in seafood.

Transparency, lack of additives, animal welfare, buying local and sustainability are five of the most important health priorities that will shape the foodservice industry this year, according to research from foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic.

Fifty-two percent of consumers said that using sustainable foods creates a good value at foodservice locations, but only 28 percent believe the foodservice industry is properly addressing sustainability issues, according to a recent blog post from Technomic President Darren Tristano.

Technomic’s survey also found that nearly 9 in 10 consumers (86 percent) would like restaurants to be more transparent about what’s in their food, and that 40 percent of consumers are more concerned about additives in their food now than they were 2 years ago.

“This trend speaks to clean labeling, as well as partnership and sourcing transparency,” Tristano wrote.

However, while consumers are more interested in healthier seafood than ever before, it is debatable whether or not they will pay a premium for it. According to Technomic’s 2014 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, only 11 percent of consumers surveyed said they would pay more for preservative-free food, 10 percent said they would pay more for hormone-free food, 10 percent would pay more for organics, 10 percent would pay more for GMO-free food and 9 percent said they would pay more for antibiotic-free food.

“While customers definitely want healthier options, not many of them are willing to pay a premium for it. Regardless, the tide is shifting toward healthier, more socially responsible foods and someone will have to pay for it in the end, whether it’s the supplier, operator or the consumer,” Rachel Royster, senior coordinator of editorial content for Technomic, told SeafoodSource.

Along a similar vein, only some American consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable seafood.

While 37.8 percent of people interviewed by the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) and The Fishin' Company said that the sustainability of seafood is “very important” when making a purchasing decision, less than half said they are willing to pay a premium for sustainable. For those who said sustainability is “very important”, 37.2 percent said they are “usually” willing to pay a higher price and 50.6 percent said they are “sometimes” willing to pay a higher price.

“We found that most respondents still place price at the top of their seafood purchasing decision tree…but this is not to say that the other factors don’t matter,” said Matt Brooker, senior category manager at The Fishin’ Company. “It shows that, for a large percentage of seafood consumers, the price of the product is the first box that needs to be checked. Seafood products compete heavily with other center-of-the-plate proteins, so we must stay mindful of how we are priced in comparison.”

In actuality, restaurant guests are willing to pay more for certified sustainable seafood, but many restaurant operators do not want pay more for the products, according to Vi Nguyen, CEO of Trangs Group USA, a supplier of frozen seafood products for retail and foodservice.

“There has been more resistance from the operator side of things. The cost structure is so entrenched, that they don’t want to offer such a high cost item,” Nguyen said. “While sustainability as an issue is important, we can’t take our eyes off of prices. The consumer is very price-sensitive. Right now, price is their most important decision-making factor.”

Contributing Editor

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