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WFC: Eco-Label Noise - Do Consumers Really Care?

GLOBAL - With an increasing number of eco-labels available to the consumer, a debate at the World Fisheries Congress asked whether consumers were concerned about sustainable seafood. Charlotte Johnston, TheFishSite editor reports.

Termed "eco-label noise" by Aldin Hilbrands, Senior Manager at Royal Ahold, one of the largest food retail companies in Europe, there seems to be a growing number of sustainable fish certification available for consumers to choose from.

One of the most commonly known is the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certificate, however even this label is only recognised by 20 per cent of consumers.

Is Sustainability Important to Consumers - Knowledge is the Key

Cathy Roheim, from the University of Idaho said that sustainability might not be the most important thing on a consumers list, price, quality and safety are all up at the top. But it is becoming more and more important to consumers, she said.

Studies since the 1990's across the EU, US and Japan have shown that a significant proportion of consumers choose to purchase eco-seafood, or are willing to pay a premium for eco-labelled seafood.

However, this was only the case, Professor Roheim said, if the consumer already had some knowledge of the issues, or if information was provided for the eco-labelled seafood.

Adriaan Kole, from the University of Wageninen, has conducted similar studies, looking at whether consumers are willing to pay for sustainable seafood. He concluded that yes, consumers are willing to pay more, but that images and information were crucial to success.

Increasing Consumer Awareness

A number of suggestions were raised from the floor during the debate. It was agreed that more needs to be done to educate consumers about sustainably sourced seafood. However, many believed it was hard to change consumer mindsets, and that instead we should focus efforts on educating younger generations in schools.

Professor Roheim said that trust is an important issue. Who tells the message plays a major role in consumer trust. An example she gave was that in the US, consumers generally prefer receiving information from environmental groups, whereas in Japan consumers prefer to put their trust in scientists.

One delegate said that eco-labels shouldn't be in place at all, and it was due to government policy failures that industry and retailers had to step in and assure consumers of sustainable seafood.

Another point raised from the floor suggested that more pressure be put on consumers to choose sustainable seafood. Although it was not said what these pressures or incentives might be, Melissa Pritchard from Client Earth said that this was a risky strategy.

"By increasing the pressure on consumers there is a risk of putting them off fish altogether, and pushing them towards buying other competitive and cheap proteins."

She said it was a common mistake for retailers and industry to only focus on sustainability. Instead we should sell sustainable seafood as a package, incorporating health and cost benefits, she concluded.

Charlotte Johnson

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