New independent research found that sustainability is a key driver for seafood purchase. In fact, across 21 countries overall, sustainability rated higher than price and brand, with nearly three-quarters (72%) of seafood consumers agreeing that in order to save the oceans, shoppers should only consume seafood from sustainable sources.

This is in contrast to purchasing motivations among shoppers of other fast-moving consumer goods, where price and brand typically outrank sustainability in driving purchase decisions.

The consumer perceptions survey, conducted by GlobeScan, Canada, on behalf of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Washington, D.C., is said to be the largest ever global analysis of attitudes to seafood consumption. Over 16,000 seafood consumers in 21 countries took part in the research.

Sustainability influences actions of consumers of all ages

With over four in five (85%) households purchasing seafood regularly, concern about ocean sustainability is influencing shoppers’ actions. Sixty-eight percent said people should be prepared to switch to more sustainable seafood.

Older consumers demonstrate a greater concern for sustainability. Seventy-five percent of seafood consumers aged 55 and over agreed with the need to eat seafood only from sustainable sources, compared with 67% of 18-34 year olds.

“These insights demonstrate that seafood consumers are attuned to the need for sustainability, and that they are prepared to change shopping habits to protect the oceans. Citizens feel empowered to vote for sustainability with their wallets,” says Rupert Howes, chief executive officer of MSC.

Independent labelling increases brand trust

More than two-thirds (68%) of those surveyed said there is a need for brands and supermarkets to independently verify their claims about sustainability, with 62% agreeing that by buying eco-labelled seafood, they are helping to ensure more fish for future generations. The same number (62%) agreed that ecolabels on seafood products raise their trust and confidence in the brand.

While 10% of the world’s wild caught seafood comes from MSC-certified fisheries, 37% of all consumers said that they have seen the MSC ecolabel. Awareness varies across the 21 markets surveyed, from 13% in Canada up to 71% in Switzerland. Respondents aged 18-34 are more likely to recall seeing the MSC label (41%) compared to older respondents (30% of those 55-plus). Of those who have seen the blue MSC label, more than six in 10 (64%) are likely to recommend it to people they know.

More than half (54%) of seafood consumers said they are prepared to pay more for a certified-sustainable seafood product. Those who have seen the MSC label place the value of the MSC label at an average premium of 11% globally.

Positive perceptions of the MSC

When asked which institutions they believed were contributing the most to protecting the oceans, respondents ranked non-governmental organizations (41%) and scientific organizations (36%) highest, with governments and business ranked as least effective.

These results are consistent with consumers’ perception of the MSC, where 86% of consumers who have seen the label say they trust it and are positive about the organization’s impact.

More than eight in 10 (81%) of those who have seen the label say that the MSC helps recognize and reward sustainable fishing. The same proportion (81%) say the MSC encourages people to shop more sustainably.

Empowering consumers to make positive choices

“Collaboration between scientists, NGOs, retailers and industry is delivering positive impacts on the water, but unsustainable fishing is still a significant challenge. Consumers who recognize the blue MSC label, trust it. However, there’s still more we can do to deliver on demand for sustainable seafood and empower shoppers to make positive choices. The MSC is therefore increasingly focused on working with our partners and the wider industry to raise awareness of the blue MSC label,” Howes adds.

“This survey gives us a detailed insight into just how different the seafood category is compared to others,” says Caroline Holme, director at GlobeScan. “In a category with relatively few trusted brands, third-party claims on sustainability and traceability can help consumers navigate their choices better. Ocean sustainability is proven to be a topic with real relevance in this category, and consumers prioritize it more than we suspected in their seafood purchase decisions.”

About the survey

This survey was carried out between January and February, using large and reliable national consumer research online panels to recruit respondents, with a minimum of 600 seafood consumers surveyed per country.

The study surveyed consumers in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and United States. Consumers in Austria, Belgium, China, Italy, Norway and South Africa were surveyed for the first time this year.

The main sample of fish and seafood consumers comprised a total of 16,876 consumers who said they or someone in their household purchased fish or seafood in the last two months, out of a total sample size of 21,877.