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Market for Seafood Eco-Labels Continues to Grow

12 November 2014

New independent research into seafood buying behaviour around the world shows that consumers are increasingly looking for fish products from a sustainable source, and that ecolabels give credibility to these claims.

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 more than 9,000 regular seafood buyers from 15 countries across Europe, Asia, Australasia and North America.

It repeats similar research undertaken on behalf of the MSC in 2010 and 2012, adding to the growing evidence base used by the MSC to encourage industry, retailers and consumers to make sustainable seafood choices.

Increased demand for sustainable seafood

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. 60 per cent agreed that buying sustainably caught seafood would help to ensure fish stocks for future generations.

This concern for ocean health is being translated into shoppers’ purchasing decisions, with two in five (41 per cent ) actively looking for fish products from a sustainable source, an increase of five percent since 2010 (36 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. Those in France (78 per cent ) and Australia (74 per cent ) were the most likely to place responsibility with supermarkets. Almost the same number (61 per cent ) agreed that restaurants should show sustainable seafood options on their menus.

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.

Trust for brands which use ecolabels

Almost half (46 per cent ) of respondents agreed that they trust brands that use ecolabels more than those that don’t. After recommendations from friends or family (59 per cent ), independent ecolabels were seen as the most trustworthy form of information for ensuring environmental and social responsibility (57 per cent ), ahead of specialist magazines (53 per cent ) and government advice (51 per cent ). A brand’s own promise on product came bottom of the trust rankings with just 39 per cent .

Respondents who recognise the MSC ecolabel were more likely to think that the commercial fishing industry is improving its level of sustainability (46 per cent compared with 33 per cent of those who did not recognise the ecolabel).

Growing recognition for MSC ecolabel

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 8 per cent compared with countries surveyed in 2010. Recognition of the ecolabel remains highest in Germany (58 per cent ), Switzerland (57 per cent ) and the Netherlands (48 per cent ). Countries outside Europe are also seeing significant increases in recognition of the MSC’s blue ecolabel. Recognition in Australia has almost doubled from 12 per cent in 2010 to 20 per cent in 2014. In Canada recognition of the MSC ecolabel has jumped from 19 per cent in 2012 to 25 per cent in 2014.

The survey indicates that the market for MSC sustainable seafood will continue to grow, with two thirds (65 per cent ) of respondents saying that they intend to buy more MSC ecolabelled seafood in the future, and that they would encourage friends and family to do the same. The 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.

Price and traceability paramount

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). Recommendations from wallet advice cards (22 per cent ) and mobile apps (13 per cent ) scored lowest.

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

Nicolas Guichoux, Global Commercial Director at the MSC said: “Around the world, the demand for sustainably sourced seafood is increasing. This survey shows that ecolabelling is an effective tool for fisheries, retailers and restaurants wishing to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable fishing. With 25,000 MSC labelled products now available in around 100 counties worldwide, buyers and consumers have many opportunities to find seafood from sustainable source. They can be assured 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.”

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