Sustainability has been a big story in the seafood sector for some time now, and that trend continues, as evidenced by the recent Seafood Expo North America (SENA), held in Boston March 12-14. From the ongoing marketing efforts of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, described in detail in the March 2023 issue of Progressive Grocer, to the many products touting their sustainability bona fides on the show floor itself, including Acme Smoked Fish’s Lox, Lobster and Lattes event, which honored the winners of the company’s Seafood Industry Climate Award, seafood suppliers were eager to make their commitment to earth-friendly practices known.
To learn more about how sustainability is influencing consumer purchases of seafood, PG spoke with Nicole Condon, U.S. program director of the London-based Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which presented research on the subject in its “Keeping Seafood Sustainability Front and Center Amid Shifting Eating Habits” session at SENA.
PG: So, obviously, sustainability has been a trend in seafood for a few years now. How have you seen it play out in particular at this year’s recent seafood expo in terms of food products, programs, packaging, etc.?
Nicole Condon: In the eight years that I’ve been attending Seafood Expo North America, it is clear that sustainability is no longer a trend, it’s ingrained in operations and messaging. The bar for sustainability is constantly evolving as we learn more about our impacts on the planet. One thing that is clear is that the conversation is shifting beyond sourcing and is additive with new innovations in ingredients, processing, packaging and shipping.
PG: According to MSC research, just 11% of U.S. residents said they were changing their diet to reduce climate change impact. How do MSC and other like-minded organizations propose to raise that percentage? How can retailers help in this endeavor?
NC: 11% of the general U.S. public say they have already made a change to reduce climate change impact. Our European neighbors are reporting stronger action (48%), which is important to take note of because they are often an indicator of what we can expect to see in our market in the near future. But when it comes to U.S. seafood consumers specifically, we see that they’re paying close attention – 45% of U.S. seafood consumers have taken action to help protect fish and seafood in our oceans. To drive impact, what we have found is that a little bit of concise and credible education at point of sale can go a long way toward tipping considerations into actionable decisions. Retailers play an important role because that’s often where consumers are making decisions about what to buy, whether in store or online.MSC is running marketing campaigns to reach the consumer and educate them about what the MSC blue fish [symbol] means and working with partners to get the word out.
PG: Should sustainability be the most important consideration for seafood consumers, above health, convenience, quality or any other factors? Why or why not?
NC: The world’s seafood supply continues to improve, and we increasingly see more fisheries and companies hitting sustainability milestones, like MSC certification. More and more, seafood consumers who want to access affordable, inherently nutritionally dense, good-quality and sustainable seafood will be able to find fantastic options in most sectors of their favorite retailer. Efforts and successes in sustainability are critical to ensuring that we continue to have this amazing food resource available to us in the future – this is especially important as our global population continues to grow, and as more pressure is put on our global food systems to offer healthy food. Doing so in a way that puts less pressure on the planet is essential.