Shifting consumer values drive changes in aquaculture industry

Amanda Bibby
June 21, 2016
By Amanda Bibby

Priorities of consumers have remained fairly steady over past decades but in some regions there is a shift that is beginning to influence the aquaculture industry to change some practices.

Seafood consumption is rising globally and the driving trends behind customer choices was a topic recently discussed at the 2016 BC Shellfish and Seafood Expo. The majority of seafood purchased in North America is actually bought in restaurants, making chefs the top “influencer”  in the consumer market. Fish can typically make it from producer to plate five days sooner when sold in a restaurant, and many consumers shy away from seafood at their local market due to the fear of preparing it.

There is a large regionality as far as consumer trends, both within North America and globally. Country of origin used to drive consumers away from a product but this is shifting as customers are beginning to seek product from desired countries. Countries able to market themselves as clean and fresh have helped this shift as consumers avoided sources struggling with pollution. Canada has been able to take advantage of this shift due to its clean waters, low global production and its small niche-market branding.

Within North America, consumer trends were once fairly similar but are beginning to shift depending on geographical location and purchaser type. Price always has been, and still is, considered the top priority for all consumers. Price drives what seafood products are purchased and what volume of each moves from producer to consumer. This has made a large impact for some North American producers as their costs of production can make it difficult to compete with similar products produced overseas. However, visual appeal and freshness play a large role in restaurant purchases and at times it can even overcome price resistance. Restaurant and retail staff can have a big influence on the choices of the end consumers if they are passionate and knowledgeable and are able to guide people towards certain products.

After price and visual appeal of the product, seafood’s health benefits have a fairly large impact on consumer choices. Seafood products available to consumers within the health food industry is growing along with the demand for new and diverse choices. This is opening up new markets and new opportunities to develop and culture a wide variety of products.

Within the coastal regions of North America, where the majority of the seafood is harvested, the focus is beginning to shift more strongly on sustainability and traceability. This is especially true with the young generation; some of them are willing to walk away if their questions are not satisfactorily answered. Many retailers are still adjusting to this new trend and distributors are having to change the way they ship products to ways that will appeal to consumers.  

The farther one moves inland, sustainability is less important but familiarity with the product can have a large impact. Unfamiliar seafood brings about a fear of how to prepare it, resulting in slow demand and sales. Many of the less common seafood products are very difficult to purchase outside of restaurants. Some retailers are trying to allay the fear of consumers in preparing unfamiliar seafood by developing and providing recipes and instructions along with their seafood products.

Fresh seafood has a relatively short shelf life and many retailers struggle to break-even with seafood sales. This makes it a challenge for seafood producers to convince retailers to carry a diverse selection. This can lead to limited choices in most retail markets and tight margins for retailers.

Amanda Bibby

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