Op-ed: Not all farms are created equal – lessons learned from engaging consumers at the Tortuga Music Festival

The Green Gourmet was a success at the Tortuga Music Festival’s Conservation Village in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.A. from 12 to 14 April, 2019. Since 2014, the Green Gourmet has served as a space where South Florida chefs can showcase their culinary skills using responsibly sourced seafood and help connect consumers with sustainable seafood options. 

During these events, it’s not uncommon to hear comments like: “I don’t eat farmed seafood” or “I only eat wild caught.” 

My answer is always the same: “Not all farms are created equal.” But what does this mean to people? 

This year, two of our seafood sponsors were Atlantic Sapphire, a farm-raised salmon producer, and Riverence, a spring water steelhead trout farm. Atlantic Sapphire’s revolutionary Bluehouse system in Denmark is the equivalent of a greenhouse, where fish are given ideal conditions to thrive. 

Meanwhile, Riverence’s recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) facilities maximize natural water resources and capacity through technology, raising eggs in Washington State and then safely transporting them to grow-out farms located along the Snake River in Idaho’s Magic Valley. Working with farms that are rated Green, or “Best Choice,” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program provides all of us organizing Green Gourmet with an opportunity to engage concertgoers in a different kind of conversation. 

We engaged concertgoers with Riverence’s trout products in a new way. We asked: “What if I told you, this trout is farm raised in Idaho? Antibiotic-free, hormone-free, zero pesticides, rich in omega-3s and is Green rated Best Choice by Seafood Watch?”   

We had the same conversation about Atlantic Sapphire: “What if I told you, this salmon is farm raised in Denmark? Antibiotic-free, hormone-free, zero pesticides, rich in omega-3s and is Green rated Best Choice by Seafood Watch?”   

Antibiotic-free. Hormone-free. Rich in omega-3s. Sustainable. These are the statements that made a difference for these concertgoers and brought them to the table to taste the product, we believe.

The range of responses we received from consumers at the event was encouraging: 

“It’s delicious!”

“Is this really trout? 

“I’m surprised it’s not fishy”

“Where can I buy it?”  

This last question was the game-changer for us: “Where can I buy this product?” 

We had worked so hard getting people to the table and trying these amazing products and, through engagement, we were able to shape their negative perceptions about aquaculture – but we couldn’t tell them where to buy it. This was a missed opportunity. 

What are the lessons learned? Consumer engagement is key and being able to provide them with access to sustainable seafood choices is the next step. In the current sustainable seafood landscape, retailers have made big strides in sourcing more responsibly and making specific commitments to sustainable seafood. Yet, they have not always been successful at engaging consumers. 

For retailers, there is the issue of high turnover rates of employees at the seafood counter, which makes training of employees about seafood sustainability challenging. At the retail level, they are also concerned with confusing customers when using labels to convey sustainability. Truth is, seafood is such a small percentage of store revenue that retailers don’t always see a return on investment. However, building a loyal consumer base, though challenging, is possible if retailers take opportunities like this one to engage their customers and create opportunities for them to ask questions about the seafood they are purchasing. Then they will feel confident it’s good for them and good for the planet. 

Next year, we hope to partner with a retailer so that we can let consumers know exactly where they can find the products featured at the Green Gourmet and hopefully continue the sustainable seafood conversation beyond this event. 

Adriana Sanchez is the founder of Seafood Ninja, Inc.


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