Deliverable 4.2

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Qualitative research report: analysis interviews aimed mainly at identifying the main positive and negative drivers of fish/seafood consumption (for the chosen species)

Executive Summary

This deliverable (Deliverable 4.2) describes one of PrimeFish objectives within Work Package 4, to study and analyse the European seafood market in general and five specific seafood supply-chains in particular. Overall, Work Package 4 will highlight fish consumption within the consumers' diets, depending on country and types of consumers and will be used to simulate the effects of various price policies and provide indications of current and future trends and consumer behaviour in local, European and international seafood markets.

Qualitative studies were used to identify positive and negative motives, perceptions, associations, attitudes towards fish/seafood consumption, with a focus on the chosen species: salmon, trout, seabass, seabream, herring and cod. Eighteen individual in-depth interviews were conducted in five European markets (France, Germany, UK, Italy and Spain) summing up to a total of 90 cases, including heavy and light fish consumers. In each of the five countries, an overall analysis of the 18 interviews was done according to harmonised guidelines, resulting in five separate country reports. These reports are the bases of the work described in this deliverable (Deliverable 4.2.). The results of the interviews of task 4.2 in the PrimeFish project will be used as an input for the design of the quantitative study conducted within Task 4.3 and choice modelling within Task 4.4.

In general, French consumers place major emphasis on enjoyment in food consumption. A large variety of seafood products in France can be considered gourmet seafood and roughly half of the French population believes that their food budget is increasing. French consumers prefer to buy fresh fish. However, canned, smoked or frozen fish were often bought due to lower income and lack of knowledge and experience in buying fresh fish. For fresh fish, freshness was the single most important criteria, but generally for fish, origin was also very important, local products were preferred but products imported from outside of Europe avoided. Wild fish was preferred but the final choice of purchase was based on price. Due to negative news about farmed fish, information on farming was required and organic farming was preferred.
It is clear that German consumers find origin, sustainability, traceability and organic production of high importance, and in general they are well aware of certification labels in relation to this. Price, freshness, taste and appearance were important attributes as well. The most commonly consumed products are smoked fish, fresh and frozen fillets, canned fish and pickled/salted herring and seafood salads. Fresh fish and ready to heat or eat fish meals are trending in Germany but local culinary traditions remain high. Overall, fish was considered healthy and could be consumed more frequently. Fresh fish was preferred, but frozen fish was a compromise.

Chilled fish, especially natural products are seen by UK consumers as high quality and healthy choice, but ready to eat or heat fish, addresses many of the barriers to consumption. Format of product was an important attribute for fish purchase, and fresh and frozen fillets of different species were the most preferred, but whole fish, surimi, soup and sushi was less likely to be bought. The most common form of products were canned, fresh fillets, natural or breaded fresh or frozen fillets, processed/transformed fish such as fish fingers and burgers. Price was the single most important criteria for UK consumers, but was less important for those who had food satisfaction and enjoyment as a high priority. Freshness was an issue and health was important in relation to natural and fish without additives. Environment and ethic aspects were important especially among younger and well educated people. Organic and Fairtrade certification were important and generally wild fish was preferred to aquaculture species. Origin was not of importance and few would mind if the fish was imported.

Fisheries have a strong tradition in Italy and play a central role in the social and cultural environment of the communities located close to the sea. Compared to many European countries, fish consumption is high in Italy and the respondents estimated their fish consumption had increased during the last five years, mainly as a healthy substitute for meat. Fresh fish was by far the most preferred type of product by the Italians. Frozen, canned, salted, and smoked were also rather popular. The single most important attributes for fish was freshness. Quality was very important and quality was not likely to be traded off against lower prices, although consumers could resort to buying different species to save money. Origin was very important and trust in salespersons was critical for the purchase of fresh products and brands for processed or frozen fish.

Spanish consumers greatly appreciate fish and shellfish and the fish consumption frequency in Spain is high compared to most countries in Europe. Spanish consumers mostly consume fresh fish and other seafood such as shellfish, molluscs and crustacean. Canned, salted, dried and smoked products were rather popular as well. Ready to eat meals and processed fish were the least preferred products. Freshness was the most important determinant for buying fish. Appearance and origin were of importance and price/promotion affected buying decisions as well. Certification and labels, reputation and brand could also be an issue and the advice of the sellers could have a strong influence on buying decisions.

The selected PrimeFish focus fish species (trout, herring, salmon, sea bass, sea bream and cod) were recognised by participants in all five countries although participants’ knowledge of the species varied by country. Salmon and trout were generally the species the participants were most familiar with, but herring was the least recognized, escept in Germany were herring was familiar and traditional. Freshness, taste, health, production method and origin were a general common denominator for important attributes, while main barriers covered partly the same attributes, such as production method (bad farming practices) and taste but also bones, poor availability, and price.

To conclude, the results of this qualitative study in the five important European markets indicated how different these markets were, although several similarities were found. The results both confirmed previous extensive studies on these markets and provided more detailed insights into consumer fish purchase behaviour, motives and barriers for fish consumption, as well as use of new purchasing channels, experience and effects of media treatment of information.

Fish knowledge and interest varied between countries, e.g. in regard to origin and production methods. The participants in most of the countries were conscious about negative press, which was most often related to fish farming. Origin of the fish was also expressed as a concern. This did affect the consumption behavior of the respondents to some degree, but differently between the five countries. Generally, seafood has a positive image based on its nutrient content, being a light food and having a healthy image.
The main barrier for fish consumption in general, was price. In addition, lack of skills to prepare fish was mentioned (and bones). Health and taste were the main drivers for fish consumption, although in some cases, taste can also be a barrier.

For further analysis of these five markets in Europe, in quantitative studies, it is of value to include the main attributes identified in this qualitative study. In this respect, overall, freshness and taste were considered important attributes for fish as were health properties. This could include the consumer value of nutritional and health claims, and date of catch. Other attributes identified of value in these qualitative studies were production method (farmed or wild caught) and origin (local, European or outside of Europe). Trust in seller or store can be considered an issue in some markets and fish information and press affected people in different ways in regard to fish consumption behaviour.

The use of different formats, from whole to processed products for different species, as well as readiness of consumption at purchase, varied considerably between markets, and between locations. The purchase behaviour of people living close to the costal line could differ substantially from inland consumers, from whole to processed products for the different species, as well as readiness of consumption at purchase. Respondents in some of the markets, especially in Germany, were more concerned about sustainability, environmental issues and traceability than respondents in other markets, such as in UK.

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