Working through the seafood labeling maze

Published on
March 16, 2016

A new report written and edited by seafood industry specialists Pascale Baelde and Marie Christine Monfort is designed to ease the decision-making process when it comes to B2C and B2B seafood labels.

The 85-page report, “Labelling seafood; What a challenge!” is the latest product from the Marketing Seafood/Sea-Matters stable, composed of workshops and reports produced by Baelde and Monfort (Baelde is a fisheries scientist and Monfort is a market research specialist).

“We have created something unique that helps people ask the right questions about which labels are essential, desirable or superfluous on their seafood products in Europe,” Monfort said. “We identified a need for this report when we realized that our clients were confused by the abundance of labels, anxious about getting it right and unsure who or where to turn to find their way through the maze.”

The report’s aim was not to compare the value and performance of the different labels, but to provide seafood and aquaculture producers with information to help them evaluate the pertinence and usefulness of labels for their particular business, Monfort said.

A major challenge to seafood purveyors is the sheer number of labels available. In France, for example, a seafood product may have a taste or quality label such as Label Rouge or Saveur de l’Année, in addition to a designation-of-origin labels such as PDO, PGI, TSG, regional or national marks and a sustainable or best practice certification such as MSC, ASC, Friend of the Sea, the French Ecolabel, BAP or GlobalGap. It may also have organic, animal welfare, fair trade, carbon rating, private label, Omega-3, “Farmed in the EU,” halal or kosher branding – and all these are in addition to labeling required under E.U. law that must identify the type of fishing gear used and the fishing or harvesting area.

“This is by no means an exhaustive list, but what all these labels have in common is the need to be noticed by consumers,” said Monfort.

As with many issues facing those in the seafood industry, the factors involved in making a decision on labeling is complex.

“Several studies on consumer expectations of seafood have shown a disparity between the attributes they claim to expect from purchases and the attributes of the products they actually purchase,” Monfort said. “Consumers in France declare a reluctance to eat farmed seafood but are the top buyers of farmed salmon and aquaculture prawns in Europe. And when it comes to caring for the environment, their concern does not necessarily translate into buying species with an eco-label or those recommended by environmental NGOs.”

Nevertheless, given that consumers in Europe today spend around 40 minutes per week in the supermarket compared to 90 minutes 20 years ago, they are looking for fast information to help them make the right choice of purchase. A recognizable label or logo with values attached to it, is a visual signal they can pick out and allows a product to stand out on the shelf.

“For consumers, the ‘value’ of a product is made up of a series of intrinsic attributes such as taste, quality, nutritional benefits and price, as well as characteristics linked to their wider values such as respect for the marine environment, social and humanitarian issues including labor rights, and preference for a local product. Purchasing decisions will be made using a combination of these,” she said. “For processors, using a B2C logo to signal a specific but invisible attribute of a product can be a successful marketing strategy if it effectively informs consumers what it promises, and it actually delivers on that promise.”

The new guide looks at the benefits and constraints of different labels, at the time factor involved in achieving them, and at the complexities inherent in private, third-party and self-certificated labels such as traceability, compliance and policing. It also assesses the level of communication and marketing support given to producers and processors by the different options, because this is an important consideration when it comes to consumer recognition.

According to Monfort, one vital question seafood purveyors should ask when considering labeling is: ‘Is it worth it?’

“Questions about the economic benefits to be gained from labeling are always present in producers' minds, but unfortunately, a number of studies have shown that it is impossible to answer this clearly, as economic results differ from one situation to another,” she said. “However, it is possible to anticipate areas of costs and areas of gains in order to minimize margins of error, and we always recommend that a full cost-benefit analysis is undertaken before embarking on any new labeling project.”

Producers are asked to assess their target markets, distribution channels and their products, particularly in relation to their attributes and how these stack up against competitors’ products.

“The ultimate aim is to increase market share for a product, and labeling certainly has a valid part to play in doing this, as part of a wider marketing strategy,” Monfort said. “I hope that our new guide will help to make the path to success a lot smoother.”

The report is available at www.marketing-seafood.com. It is priced at GBP 390 (USD 553, EUR 498).

Editor's note: A reference to the Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC) has been removed from this article. The SSC is not a certification scheme, nor an ecolabel. It is a set of minimum standards, set out in voluntary codes of conduct. Also, it is currently only active in the U.K. supply chain.

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