Seafood Consumer Demographics
In 2019, the size of the US fish and seafood industry was $3 billion and the price is the topmost factor that people consider while buying seafood. A recent (2020) study by Changing Tastes concluded that US consumers have no strong preference for either wild or farm seafood. However, the older Changing Tastes study found that older people above the age of 55 years have some preference for wild seafood. Grocery stores and supermarkets are the places where premium shoppers go to buy seafood. Also, US consumers say that as compared to poultry, beef and pork, seafood products are more sustainable.
(I) CONSUMER'S JOURNEY OF PURCHASING SEAFOOD
- First step while making a purchasing decision for high-quality seafood is to buy it from "reputable dealers" i.e. those who have a "known record of safe handling practices."
- As seafood is "highly perishable" item, it is important to purchase it at last. Also, while purchasing seafood, it is important to consider “fresh” but quality product. Therefore, consumers should consider both “frozen” or fresh seafood but that should be "superior in quality."
- Food allergies is another important factor to be considered from safety point of view. Consumers should know about the types of seafood products before selecting them if they are not allergic to that item. This is due to the reason that some consumers might be allergic to specific types of fish such as "shellfish (clams, oysters) or crustaceans (shrimp, lobsters, crab)."
- Finfish and crustaceans are among "two of the eight key allergens that account for 90% of allergic responses from food."
- Checking allergies for seafood is important due to the fact that "proper cooking and handling" also can not "remove the allergenic properties of the food." Therefore, consumers should avoid eating the food they are allergic to.
- After buying the seafood, its proper storage is important. So after buying, seafood should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
- However, if one has planned to consume seafood within two days after purchase, it can be stored in a "clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F or below."
The US Seafood Market:
- US consumers mainly consume commercial seafood products at home or in restaurants or other similar food-related establishments obtained through three different sources: (i) U.S. commercial fisheries (ii) U.S. aquaculture production (iii) imported from other countries.
- A survey conducted in 2019 found that 21% of US consumers frequently (two or more times a week) consume fish or seafood, 35% of respondents said that they consume seafood once a month to one time a week and 44% said that they consume seafood less than once a month or never.
- The size of the US fish and seafood industry was $3 billion in 2019 with an annual growth rate of 3.1% between 2014 and 2019.
- According to a study by Sea Grant, 73% of "eat seafood three or more times per month. " 89% of consumers prefer to purchase "fresh fish fillets", 53% of consumers are more likely to buy shellfish, 33% would buy seafood chowders or soups whereas, 28% of consumer prefer to purchase frozen fillets.
- "82% of local restaurant and retail managers" are more likely to "purchase local seafood if it was filleted. "
- The study indicated that "73% of consumers regularly cook seafood at home" whereas, "75% regularly eat it in restaurants."
Where Do People Shop for Seafood:
- As compared to the average non-seafood eater, the average spending of a seafood eater is "more on food at the supermarket" $129 vs. $116 per week.
- Moreover, people who frequently eat seafood spend even more than average seafood eaters (approximately $143 per week).
- Premium shoppers generally go to grocery stores or supermarkets to buy seafood.
US Consumers Buy Wild or Farmed Seafood:
- According to the latest study by Changing Tastes, "American consumers continue to have no strong established preference for farmed or wild fish."
- As compare to younger generations, US consumers of age 55 or above mostly prefer eating wild fish and seafood. However, younger generations have no specific preference for wild or farmed seafood.
- The Changing Tastes study concluded that "with aquaculture supplying a significant share of shrimp and salmon to the U.S. market, the erosion of consumer preference gives greater flexibility in making responsible purchasing decisions."
- A survey conducted by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council found that about 50% of seafood consumers don’t have a preference for wild and farmed seafood or fish. Therefore, these people prefer any seafood products that they feel are good for planet and people's health.
- The study, Humane Aquaculture: Opportunities on the Plate found that about 50% of US consumers are "more likely to purchase fish and seafood that is humanely harvested."
- A study by Sea Grant found that females heads of household are the primary purchasers of seafood.
- These people are the "middle- to upper-middle income earners."
- Age of the females who make purchase decisions for seafood mainly belong to the age group of 35-55 years.
- Also, the study found a "correlation between average household income and the likelihood that individuals will purchase seafood at a restaurant or market." Based on the study, the higher income individuals are more likely to buy seafood.
- To purchase local seafood, consumers would be willing to travel up to five miles on average.
Factors That Most US Consumers Consider While Buying Seafood:
- It was found that "almost half of all Americans eat little to no seafood," but there are many Americans who love seafood and are ready to give more price and more time shopping for it so that they can eat seafood regularly.
- An online survey by Sustainable seafood company found "overwhelming concern" about seafood sources, contaminants, ocean pollution and overfishing"; however, "price" is the top factor that affects the purchasing decision of seafood consumers.
- A "discount or just “being in the mood” act as the driver or impulse buying for seafood.
- The Sea Grant report revealed that in the case of seafood, US consumers are ready to pay, "on average, $2.25 more per pound", "if it is local."
(2) Quality and freshness:
- Freshness and flavor are the two factors that have "a major impact on seafood purchases."
- As published by Nielsen report, some US seafood consumers are concerned about the quality and freshness of seafood whereas, others are not confident about the method of preparation of seafood products.
(3) Lack of information:
- According to seafood shoppers, they are "turned off of seafood by their lack of information about the product."
- Seafood consumers said that they "do not feel very knowledgeable about seafood overall"; however, most of them have a desire to know more about their seafood.
- According to a survey, only 29% of customers "feel very knowledgeable about how to buy seafood," and only 28% of consumers reported that they are confident about how to prepare or cook seafood or about the flavor of seafood.
- Also, only 27% of grocery shoppers have the knowledge about the "nutritional benefits of seafood," and just 26% of consumers know "how to judge freshness or quality" of seafood.
- Sustainability is an important factor for Seafood consumers that impact their purchasing decisions. While buying seafood, many consumers "want to be sure the products they buy are responsibly sourced."
- Over the past year (2017), sales of "all seafood with sustainability claims increased 3%," whereas, sales of "seafood with Marine Stewardship Council labeling grew 27% and sales of seafood with Sustainable Fishing labeling grew 30%."
- An online survey by a sustainable seafood company found that most of the US consumers reported that as compared to poultry, beef and pork, seafood products are more sustainable.
(5) Easier meal solutions:
- Seafood consumers look for "easier meal solutions" and want to get knowledge about how to cook the item. They want to be sure that "they can master this when they get home and it's going to be tasty.”
- Most notably, busy consumers prefer to buy seafood that is "partially or fully prepared" as it gives them access "to quick, healthy options that also remove the “guessing game” when it comes to food preparation." Therefore, prepared seafood is a growing opportunity for seafood retailers. Also, 29% of meal kit users reported that "they eat more seafood with meal kits."
(6) Factors that most consumers concerned about:
- 90% of US consumers are concerned about mercury contamination in seafood, 88% are worried about ocean pollution, 86% have concerns about the "extinction of wild fish species" whereas, 83% of consumers are concerned about "seafood mislabeling."
(II) INSIGHTS ON WHETHER WILD OR FARMED SEAFOOD IS CONSIDERED BETTER OR MORE SUSTAINABLE
1. No strong established preference:
- Based on a recently published study by Changing Tastes, 2020, American seafood consumers have no established preference.
- Therefore, the study found that "a majority of U.S. consumers now consider both wild-capture and aquaculture to be acceptable ways of producing fish and seafood."
- However, the Changing Tastes study that was conducted two years ago (2018) found that US consumers prefer wild seafood more than farmed. But the recent study concluded a "lack of preference for farmed or wild seafood" which then "upends the conventional wisdom that U.S. consumers prefer wild options." indicating a continued decline in consumer's preference.
2. Better choice for the environment:
- The study found that 17% of US consumers eat fish or seafood as they consider it to be "a better choice for the environment compared to other protein options."
- Approximately 80% of US consumers are "concerned about overfishing" whereas, 67% are "concerned about environmental impacts of aquaculture."
3. Preference by Age:
- The study revealed that the seafood preference is significantly different for different age groups.
- US consumers of age 55 or older (baby boomers) strongly prefer wild fish and seafood.
- Younger generations in the US including millennials and Gen Z have "less pronounced preferences and are generally accepting of all types of fish and seafood production."
4. Preferences around cellular proteins:
- The Changing Tastes study found that US consumers prefer cellular proteins. These people are ready to "switch from traditional seafood to cellular seafood."
- The study revealed that about "one in five U.S. consumers who are presently seafood eaters are willing to switch entirely from wild to cellular."
- However, many US consumers are "unfamiliar with cellular aquaculture and have concerns about it."
5. Salmon and shrimp:
- The Changing Tastes study found that over 40% of US restaurants "now have salmon on their menu" whereas, about two-thirds of the US restaurants "currently offer shrimp."
- Also, About one-third of "these restaurants anticipate purchasing more salmon and shrimp in the near future."
- Many US consumers find salmon and shrimp as "healthy options" to eat when they go out.
- Certain attributes that US consumers consider the most while buying seafood include "taste, quality, sustainability, and price.”
6. Competition between wild and farmed:
- There is constant competition between wild and farmed fish or seafood at the global and the US level. However, it is "an absolute fact" that in order to fulfill the growing demand for seafood, aquaculture is very important and without this, the industry would not be able to provide the seafood needed for the world.
- The main problem behind the debate between wild and farmed fish or seafood is because of the consumers as they are not educated. Consumers are confused and the negative news comparing farmed and wild seafood makes them reluctant to even chose any type of fish or seafood. So, they just end up not eating seafood.
- As compared to picking up a species of fish or seafood and cooking method, consumers are more concerned about the production methods of seafood.
7. Changing consumer sentiment:
- According to a survey by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council "more than half of seafood consumers in key markets don’t have a preference between wild and farmed fish, preferring any products that take a responsible approach to protect both planet and people."