UK Consumers Expect Retailers, Restaurants to Provide Sustainable Seafood

14 November 2014, at 12:00am

UK - New independent research into seafood buying behaviour shows that the vast majority of British consumers expect sustainable options for fish products in supermarkets and restaurants, and trust ecolabels to inform their decisions more than brand promises.

In the UK, 71 per cent of respondents said they believed that it is important that supermarkets sell sustainably caught seafood, while 60 per cent agreed that restaurants should show that they have sustainable seafood options, even though only six per cent said they had seen seafood ecolabels on the menu when they eat out.

Respondents also said they trusted ecolabels on products (61 per cent ) more than recommendations from family/friends (57 per cent ), information from supermarkets (48 per cent ) and the brand’s own promise on products (41 per cent ).

The research, conducted on behalf of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), is believed to be the world’s largest international survey of sustainable seafood consumption. It questioned 610 regular seafood buyers in the UK, and 9,019 across 15 countries in Europe, Asia, Australasia and North America.

Increased demand for sustainable seafood

Globally, almost all (90 per cent ) respondents thought that ocean sustainability is important, with 55 per cent saying that falling fish stocks has become a more important issue than it was a year ago. In the UK, 67 per cent of respondents agreed that buying sustainably caught seafood would help to ensure fish stocks for future generations, slightly higher than the global average of 60 per cent .

Supermarkets and restaurants are seen to have a key role in ensuring the sustainability of seafood. Almost two thirds (65 per cent ) of those surveyed agreed that it’s important for supermarkets to make sure that they are selling sustainably caught fish.

Recent increases in the number of MSC ecolabelled products suggest that retailers are responding to these demands. Globally, the number of seafood products carrying the MSC ecolabel increased fivefold to more than 25,000 between 2010 and 2014.

Changing trends

In the UK, the trend for buying sustainable seafood looks set to continue with two-thirds of respondents intending to buy more MSC labelled seafood in the future, while the same proportion said they would advise friends or family to do the same.

With MSC ecolabelled products now available in around 100 countries, the survey found that a third (33 per cent ) of the regular seafood buyers recognise the MSC ecolabel. This represents an increase of eight per cent compared with countries surveyed in 2010.

Price and traceability paramount

The worldwide retail market value of consumer facing MSC ecolabelled sustainable seafood reached US$4.8 billion in 2013-14, an increase of 147 per cent since 2010.

Globally, price remains the one of the primary factors determining seafood purchasing decisions (79 per cent ), with traceability of the product (66 per cent ) and its sustainability (61 per cent ) also ranking highly.

However, respondents did express an increased willingness to pay a little more for a product with an ecolabel (39 per cent compared with 32 per cent in 2010).

With the recent food traceability scares raising questions about food labelling, the demand for traceable products is most significant in the UK, rising from 61 per cent in 2012 to 67 per cent in 2014.

Toby Middleton, Senior UK manager at the MSC, said: “British consumers have demonstrated once again that they are ahead of the curve when it comes to demanding sustainable seafood. Some retailers and restaurants have responded well to this demand, but others have much further to go to meet the expectations of shoppers and diners when it comes to for sustainable seafood.

“British consumers have also shown that ecolabel credibility is important to them and place a premium on our assurance that the food they are purchasing can be traced back to a fishery which has been independently assessed to meet the MSC’s strict scientific standards for sustainable fishing.”