Patriotism rules Euro seafood buying preferences
The European Union is a major market for fishery and aquaculture products, with consumers spending EUR 54 billion (USD 57.6 billion) on seafood purchases in 2015, and this is set to increase as per capita consumption catches up with its pre-economic crisis levels.
A new Eurobarometer study, commissioned by the E.U. Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, shows that the appearance of seafood and its cost are two of the most important drivers for European consumers. The perceived health benefits of seafood and its taste are also important, and consumers like trying new seafood products and species.
Carried out in June 2016 and published in January 2017, the study uncovered a strong patriotic preference for buying fishery and aquaculture products. More than one-third (37 percent) of seafood consumers expressed a preference for products from their own country, and 29 percent preferred products from their region.
More than two-thirds of E.U citizens (67 percent) buy seafood at least once a month, and 37 percent buy it at least once a week. However, most still fall far short of consuming the two portions per week recommended by national health authorities.
Supermarkets and grocery stores scored highly on the list of preferential places to purchase seafood, with three out of four people buying here.
European consumers were found to trust the content of labels, especially when the information provided was required by law. Around 66 percent think that product information is clear and easy to understand, confirming that E.U. labelling rules are working.
The aim of the survey was to improve understanding of the E.U. internal market for fishery and aquaculture products to allow operators to be more competitive, and to support new strategies to stimulate growth, strengthen economic activities in the internal market and promote job creation.
"This survey helps us see how Europeans choose their seafood. This helps inform our policies. We must make sure that consumers continue to have a wide range of high quality seafood to choose from. That is why we are determined to reach targets on sustainable fishing by 2020,” European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella said.
At the same time, a survey was undertaken by EUMOFA, the E.U. Commission's European market observatory for fisheries and aquaculture products. The study drew together and analysed recent studies on regional seafood buying habits and consumption, the effects of retail and national campaigns on consumer perceptions, and the effects of supply constraints.
This study found that all Southern E.U. countries benefited from local supplies of fishery and aquaculture products, but consumption rates varied considerably. For example, Croatia has a fish consumption level well below E.U. average, while Portugal is well above. Price was an important driver.
In Northern E.U. countries, fish consumption largely depends on imports, and consumption is well below the E.U. average. Seafood is considered to be expensive, and consumers are increasingly aware of sustainability issues.
Western E.U. countries benefit from ample supplies of wild and farmed seafood, which play an important part of their culinary traditions. Here, seafood consumption is relatively high and consumption of farmed products is trending upwards. Higher availability of fresh fish, convenience products and sushi are changing consumption habits away from more traditional meals, especially among younger consumers.
Internal supply is particularly important in Eastern E.U. countries, where consumption of seafood is low. Freshwater fish such as carp are the most important species, but young people are turning away from traditional dishes. Growing imports from other regions is increasing the availability of seafood, but price is a major driver and many consumers consider it to be unaffordable.
Landlocked Central E.U. countries also have low consumption rates, and locally produced carp is the most important species, especially in Hungary and the Czech Republic. The import of saltwater fish from other regions is starting to change consumer habits, while urbanization is increasing demand for convenience products.
Eurobarometer data, confirmed by the national studies, showed that wild seafood is preferred by more consumers than farmed species, in almost all E.U. Member States. However, most consumers did not express a preference, with production methods being a less important driver than the price-to-quality ratio.
However, given that more and more seafood needs to come from aquaculture in the future to meet growing global demand for protein, the researchers suggested that an increased market share for farmed fish might be accelerated and supported by national promotional campaigns. These should seek to reduce negative perceptions related to farmed products, and where possible, promote local origin of aquaculture products to fit in with their findings for regional and national preferences.
Urgent attention was also needed to encourage more young people to eat seafood, as this sector has the lowest consumption rates, which shows in E.U. overall seafood consumption rates – 2008 consumption was at 26 kg per capita, compared to 25.5 kg per capita in 2015.