Younger Europeans OK with buying seafood in supermarkets, new study shows

Published on
May 8, 2019

Results of a new Eurobarometer study, presented by the European Commission at the 2019 Seafood Expo Global, showed how little seafood consumption patterns have evolved over the past two years.

The study, “E.U. consumer habits on fishery and aquaculture products,” was a follow-up of a similar 2016 survey involved face-to-face interviews with 27,734 people in all 28 E.U. member-states. The new findings suggest that purchasing and consumption habits, together with the opinions and attitudes of consumers about seafood, remained broadly similar on an EU level, although there were minor variations between countries.

The main drivers for people buying fish were its healthy nature, appearance, taste, cost, origin, brand, ease of preparation, and environmental, social, and ethical reasons. One major change between the 2016 and 2018 studies is that the divide between quality and price switched, with quality now a more important criterion. 

However, price is still an important factor, deterring some people from eating or buying more seafood, and consumers stated that they would eat more seafood if they had better choice and the points of sale were more diverse. Other reasons for not eating seafood were given by 49 percent of respondents as a dislike of the taste, smell, or appearance. 

According to Frangiscos Nikolian from the European Commission, if consumers aren’t buying seafood because they dislike what is on offer, then greater innovation is needed to tempt them back, by figuring out what they might like.

The study showed that the majority of respondents (70 percent) continued to buy and eat seafood products at home at least once per month, but only 41 percent ate it on a weekly basis. Increases in consumption were noted in Portugal and Greece, with slight decreases in Belgium, France, and some central E.U. countries.  

There was also an overall decline in the number of visits to restaurants to eat seafood.

People living in E.U. countries with large coastlines were more likely to eat seafood products on a frequent basis than those living in land-locked countries. Hungary, in particular, was noted for a very low rate of seafood consumption, both at home and out of home. 

The highest number of purchases of seafood took place in a grocery store or supermarket in the majority of E.U. countries, followed by fishmongers, market halls, and specialist stores.

“Interestingly, the younger the consumer, the more likely they are to buy seafood at supermarkets. This will become an increasingly important trend as younger consumers enter the market,” Nikolian said.

Frozen fish topped the list of regular seafood purchases, followed by fresh and tinned products, with smoked, salted, dried or in brine products bringing up the rear. Seafood breaded products and ready meals tended not to be eaten regularly. 

Fish fillets were preferred by half (50 percent) of those interviewed, and whole fish by just over one quarter (27 percent), particularly in the Mediterranean, The Netherlands, and Romania.

Asked if they preferred to buy wild or farmed seafood, around one-third of consumers stated that they had no preference, while just over one third preferred wild products. A need for a quality product was mentioned in connection with farmed seafood, and 48 percent expressed a preference for local seafood or seafood from their own region.

“Consumers have traditionally asked store staff or fishmongers for information about preparing and cooking seafood, and are more likely to take suggestions for products from family and friends, rather than from references on TV, websites, books, or magazines. However, the latest study shows that younger consumers are more likely to go online,” Nikolian said.

While consumers expressed an interest in trying new fishery and aquaculture products, they did not generally appear to mind where they ate them, with 65 percent trying at home compared with 59 percent trying at promotional events or in restaurants. 

Nikolian explained that the E.U. Commission was pleased to see that consumers appeared to have greater understanding of labelling information. “Use by” and “best before” dates, along with the name of the product and species and whether the product was previously frozen, were cited as the most important elements on seafood labels.

Finally, the study found an important level of trust in the mandatory information provided on labels, together with independent certification schemes and information provided by the brand or seller. 

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