- When buying fish, a study by researchers at Vancouver Island University and Duke University finds that consumers care more about taste, price and texture, and less about its sustainability, reports Hakai Magazine.
- The study found the most important factors influencing seafood purchasing decisions are — in ranked order — taste, smell, texture, price, whether the fish is farmed or wild, if it’s local, health benefits and risks, and finally, perceived sustainability.
- The study did not clearly define terms like “sustainability,” “local” or “farmed,” but left it up to the respondent’s interpretation. Items higher on the list, like wild versus local, and health/food safety issues could be more generally encompassed under the definition of sustainability as well.
Taste, price and texture are three attributes that typically top the list for shoppers when buying any food product — and seafood is no exception. And despite getting relatively low marks in this particular study, sustainability still remains a top-of-mind issue for some contemporary consumers. Shoppers are still willing to pay more for products that have ethically sourced ingredients, transparent supply chains and sustainability claims.
While the study’s findings suggest it may behoove producers and retailers to focus promotional efforts on the all-important product attributes of taste, price and texture, it doesn't mean grocers, fish wholesalers and fisheries will be relinquishing sustainable practices any time soon. One of the most pressing environmental issues today is the overfishing of the world's oceans. A 2012 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report estimated that up to 85% of the world’s wild fish are either overharvested or already depleted.
Transparency around the seafood space has recently grown in light of seafood fraud and reports that slave labor may be used to harvest fish in certain parts of the world. Shoppers also want to know more about the quality of their seafood, given the potential for high mercury levels in fish. But few consumers know how to gauge what fish is safe, so they rely heavily on retailers to ensure safety. In fact, an astonishingly high 94% of shoppers say they trust their grocery store to ensure the food they purchase is safe, according to the Food Marketing Institute U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends study.
New Seasons Market offers "trash fish," or less popular fish varieties that are often discarded by fishers, in order to bolster supply chain sustainability. Hy-Vee has transitioned 100% of its sushi offerings to sustainable sources and now offers seafood only caught in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. Publix now discloses all of the fisheries used to source its wild-caught seafood as part of an alliance with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership and Ocean Disclosure project. With ethically and sustainably sourced food products top of mind for many shoppers, it would be wise for grocers to follow the lead of these retailers.