Seafood Summit: Gauging Consumer Engagement and Perceptions of Sustainable Seafood

Posted by Julia Brooks on 28 January 2016

Sustainability is now the backbone of the seafood industry thanks to years and years of research and campaigning to ensure fish stocks are at healthy levels. However, engaging consumers with the sustainability message has always been a challenge. Whilst the public will express concerns about the future of the oceans and overfishing, this is not always reflected in their buying behaviour with many still choosing price over sustainable values.

This is one of the discussions at the Seafood Summit in Malta next week and I will be presenting some interesting research Seafish undertook to assess sustainability awareness within the eating "out of home" foodservice channel.

We have researched each stage along the foodservice value chain and found knowledge, awareness and activity in the supply end, which was not always evident in the actual outlets. In fact, sustainability messages on menus fell over the last year! It transpires that outlets are having to focus on addressing diners concerns about seafood dishes taste, texture, smell, the presence of bones and its value compared to other proteins - basically, will they enjoy it and will it fill them up as much as the other proteins on the menu? Sustainability is simply not a spontaneous consideration for diners, hence it dropping off the menu.

However, 49% of consumers asked did claim that knowing the seafood was from a sustainable source would make them more likely to choose it, which complements other foodservice research that shows diners perceive food with a detailed provenance as a better quality and healthier option. This highlights a great area of opportunity, but how can outlets address these concerns whilst creating a demand for sustainable seafood?


Combining our results with examples of industry best practice we identified that restaurants need to use a combination of consistent verbal and written communication, and education tools, to build an engaging story about their produce.


  • Through the use of menus, displays and knowledgeable waiting staff, diners can be inspired to buy seafood and try new things, whether it's different species, preparations or flavour combinations.
  • Diners generally trust the chef to be the expert and create a delicious, nutritious meal that they could not reproduce at home, but they need reassurance that they are making the right choice. The key is to positively anticipate diners concerns regarding the preparation, presence of bones etc., and that it will satisfy their appetite.
  • If all of this is supported by "sustainable" sourcing messages, consumers' engagement increases and they perceive a higher quality of produce, with greater health benefits and greater intrinsic value, thus increasing the demand for sustainable seafood in foodservice.


What is clear is that to positively influence consumers behaviour, business owners and chefs need to deliver an engaging sustainability message to their customers at the point of purchase.


Seafish are taking part in a discussion on 'Gauging Consumer Engagement and Perceptions of Sustainable Seafood' at the Seafood Summit in St Julians, Malta on 1st February (13:45 to 15:00 GMT + 1). It will be moderated by James Wright, Editorial Manager at the Global Aquaculture Alliance, and on the panel are Julia Brooks, Seafish Market Insight Analyst, Alexis Gutierrez, Foreign Affairs Specialist for NOAA Fisheries, and Matt Brooker, Senior Category Manager for The Fishin' Company. Anybody wishing to attend can register on the Seafood Summit website.