Latest MSC survey highlights “generational shift” in consumer sentiment

Published on
November 11, 2020

A new far-reaching survey by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and prepared by GlobeScan is indicating a generational shift in how consumers in North America view sustainability when they go to purchase seafood.

The survey – part of a biannual effort by the MSC – surveyed more than 4,000 seafood consumers in North America, and finding that seafood sustainability is increasingly important to consumers across all generations, but is most important to those between 18 to 34 years old.

“We are seeing this year, more than we ever have in a quarter-century of consumer research, that there are generational patterns and shifts,” GlobeScan Senior Director Eric Whan said during a webinar reviewing the new data.

Certain reasons to purchase more seafood, like it being more healthy, were rated as less important by young people compared to older generations. Only 52 percent of those aged 18 to 34 said they were eating more fish because of its health benefits, compared to 81 percent of those over 55. Inversely, 59 percent of those over 55 said they decided to not eat fish as often because of it being more expensive, while just 32 percent of younger consumers put cost as a barrier.

The largest barrier to fish consumption by those aged 18 to 34, according to the survey, are concerns about declining fish stocks and about the effects it is having on the ocean.

“The younger folks, which really are a proxy for the future marketplace, are really worth paying attention to,” Whan said.

Younger generations were also more likely to recognize eco-labels on seafood, and were more interested in learning about the sustainability of products from companies.

“This younger generation is really a perceptive group to tap,” MSC Senior Marketing Manager Kristen Stevens said. “They are concerned about fish stocks, and they are concerned about the ocean.”

Younger people, Stevens said, are more interested in what sort of impacts products are having on the environment. In addition, younger people are also more skeptical of sustainability claims, and prefer to have some form of third-party verification that the product truly is as sustainable as it says it is.

“They are pretty discerning. We can’t just say ‘it’s sustainable, trust us,’” Stevens said. “This group, it’s clear that they do need reassurance that when they choose a product that they are not doing harm.”

For some retailers, appealing to those sensibilities is important, especially considering younger people represent the future of the marketplace, ” Vice President of Seafood Merchandizing for Whole Foods Market Wesley Rose said. With the increased prevalence of shopping online among younger people, companies like Whole Foods are working to make sure consumers can access the information they need.

“The growing online marketplace, and pickup and delivery, that’s an area we’re trying to bring the same level of information and transparency and trust to,” Rose said. “We have to make sure we are giving our customer as close to an in-store experience as possible.”

Whole Foods has team members capable of teaching customers in person,  but currently, online shoppers can’t talk to trained staff about their seafood purchases.

“That’s one of the challenges, how do we take that and put it online as well,” Rose said.  

Photo courtesy of LADO/Shutterstock

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