Sea Mix brand CEO: MSC certification is only path forward for Chinese market
Chinese consumers are increasingly interested in sustainability, according to Song Peng, the CEO of Qingdao Beiyang Jiamei Aquatic Products Co. Established in 2009, the firm distributes seafood to supermarkets and online markets in China under the “Seamix” brand, using the marketing slogan “Food safety, responsibility, sustainability.” The firm’s imports include Arctic shrimp, cod, salmon, Ecuadorian shrimp, and Greenland halibut. SeafoodSource talked to Song about the firm’s marketing strategy for certified sustainable products.
SeafoodSource: When and how did you discover the MSC certification program?
Peng: We started as a processor and then entered the domestic market. In 2010, we started to process MSC-certified cod and haddock for the European and American markets. We are now the leading supplier of MSC products in China market in terms of SKUs [stock keeping units].
SeafoodSource: Why do you stock MSC-certified products? Is it because MSC certified products allow you to charge higher prices?
Peng: We are marketing MSC-certified products from two perspectives. First, protecting the sustainability of seafood. We depend on seafood to eat, thus to protect the sustainability of seafood is to protect our own jobs. Also, we are protecting our future generations. Not to do so would be very selfish. Secondly, MSC’s chain of custody certification guarantees product traceability and increases our ability to increase consumers trust in our processing work and products. From the point of view of price, in marketing MSC products in China, we benchmark to non-MSC certified products. Sometimes these prices are lower than MSC products. We hope in the future that this situation can change.
SeafoodSource: Does the MSC certification on a seafood product increase sales of that product and if yes, why?
Peng: From our perspective, yes. The first reason is that MSC eco-label products give consumers an option that values environmental resource protection; and MSC's promotion of the concepts sustainable has evoked an increasing amount of resonance with consumers. In cases where the price difference isn’t great, more people choose ecologically-certified products. Also, this allows consumers to feel that they can participate in environmental protection.
SeafoodSource: How aware are your customers of MSC and what the certification means?
Peng: MSC commissioned GlobeScan to conduct a survey, the survey showed that eight percent of consumers in the eastern coastal areas of China recognized the MSC logo. Beiyang Jiamei Seafood is also trying various ways to recommend the concept of MSC to consumers. Many of our products are sold through online retailers, which gives us an opportunity to promote the meaning behind the MSC Blue Label through the description of the product details. We promote our products as sustainable, traceable, wild-fished product.
On certain products we also print a label saying, “Thank you for purchasing MSC eco-label products to contribute to the sustainable development of the ocean,” so that consumers can know that through selective purchases, they can also carry out actions that are protecting the environment, our natural resources, and our future generations. These are meaningful things for future generations.
SeafoodSource: Do Chinese consumers care about sustainability of the seafood they purchase?
Peng: Chinese consumers are concerned about sustainability, and this level of attention is gradually increasing with the continuation and deepening of promotion, especially with the support of more and more young people. In the Sustainable Seafood Week promotion with MSC, we found that volunteers on-site support activities include college students and young office workers, which shows that sustainable consumption is becoming a trend.
SeafoodSource: Is price or sustainability the biggest factor when shoppers in China are purchasing seafood?
Peng: For most consumers, there is no doubt that price considerations are first. The distribution of China's huge consumer population and the imbalance of our economic development mean that most consumers at this stage are definitely concerned about price. This is also an important consideration for our benchmark non-MSC products in pricing, so that many consumers will not be priced. The obvious difference is discouraged. The concept of MSC needs long-term promotion, and more consumers need to participate if we are to truly achieve sustainable goals. We are willing to sacrifice part of our profit margin in stages to shorten this process.
SeafoodSource: How have Chinese consumer attitudes towards sustainability been changing?
Peng: You could say the awareness is starting from nothing [but] it’s starting to steadily increase. This is excellent.
SeafoodSource: What are the main factors changing Chinese consumers' attitudes to sustainability in seafood?
Peng: The development of Chinese society and the economy have begun to make Chinese consumers basically to look beyond considerations of food and clothing, and begin to pay attention to their living environment, and to consider the relationship between people and nature, and to consider how they can do what they can to improve the overall environment. Choosing sustainable seafood is a simple and easy way.
SeafoodSource: Will you seek to stock more MSC-certified products?
Peng: The core value of Seamix is “[Food] safety, responsibility and sustainability.” We have many choices in seafood procurement, but MSC is already the company's procurement principle. We have our own processing plant, and we can offset the possible cost increases by adding value to the product by processing.
SeafoodSource: Is there a Chinese sustainability standard or certification similar to MSC which you are also aware of?
Peng: Right now, there isn’t.
SeafoodSource: Do you get a lot of support from MSC in promoting MSC-certified products in store?
Peng: Yes. We have received strong and multi-dimensional support from MSC in the marketing of our products. At the same time, we have also strengthened cooperation with associations or institutions such as China Chain Store & Franchise Association (CCFA) in promoting sustainable seafood through MSC. The promotion of sustainable seafood is a systematic, long-term process, and we look forward to more support and assistance from MSC.
SeafoodSource: What do you think needs to be done to increase the importance and popularity of MSC-certified seafood in the Chinese market?
Peng: We hope that MSC will continue to increase its promotion efforts and dimensions in China, and further strengthen cooperation with domestic organizations such as CCFA (China Chain Store & Franchise Association) to strengthen communication with consumers. Of course, this requires MSC to tilt more promotional resources to the Chinese market. Imagine a country that could become the world's largest consumer of seafood, even if it is a single-digit growth in sustainable seafood consumption, it is a matter of expectation.
At the same time, as an export processing enterprise, we hope that the promotion of MSC in neighboring countries and regions will also make great progress. This regional growth and interaction will also help the positive development of the Chinese market. We also hope that MSC will strengthen cooperation with China's domestic fisheries and allow more Chinese domestic fisheries to participate in sustainable fisheries projects to protect the seafood supply of our children and grandchildren.
Photo courtesy of Zhejiang Fisheries Circulation and Processing Association