Consumers‘ perception and assessment of sustainable fish labels
Where does the fish fillet on my plate come from? Is it of a fish stock which is threatened? Many consumers seem to be sensitized regarding problems such as overfishing or undesirable by-catches. However, how relevant are those sustainability aspects at the point of sale?
Since a growing demand for fish and the resulting negative environmental impacts such as overfishing, undesirable by-catches and fish discards or the consequences for aquatic productivity and habitats that sustain resources are apparent worldwide, an increased environmental awareness in regard to fishing could has been observed for a number of years. NGOs and the industry have, partially together, reacted with establishing sustainable fish labels. Currently, fish products with a variety of different sustainability labels can be found in shelves or in the counter fridge of German supermarkets. However, it remains open, whether such sustainable fish labels are relevant in the purchasing behaviour of consumers. Consumers’ decisions for sustainability products depend on an appropriate and reliable label or claim. In addition, the given information has to be perceived, understood and positive assessed. The aim of the study is to investigate consumers understanding of the concept of “sustainable fishing” and their purchasing criteria for fish. Further, the perception and assessment of existing sustainable labels among fish products is addressed.
We conducted focus groups in four German cities (Hamburg, Cologne, Leipzig, Munich) in spring 2012. Fish buyers were asked about their purchasing criteria for fish, about the general understanding of sustainable fishing and their knowledge about sustainability labels. Main point of interest was the discussion of five existing labels which can be found in German supermarkets: “MSC” (Marine Stewardship Council), “Naturland Wildfisch”, “Dolphin Safe”, “Iceland Responsible Fisheries” und “Friends of the Sea”. Especially differences in perception and assessment of these labels as well as the credibility were topics examined in more detail.
Focus groups were documented in audio and video format. Afterwards, records were typed (transcribed) and analysed using thematic coding. Within this step, we generated categories (e.g. purchasing criteria, Knowledge labels, positive/negative assessment of MSC) and assigned answers from the discussions to the different categories. The approach allowed penetrating consumers’ state of knowledge and discovering the diversity of present opinions.
The results indicate that sustainability in fisheries is of minor relevance for German consumers’ purchase decision. Other criteria like taste, freshness, availability at the point of sale and habits proved to be more important. Participants’ knowledge on examples of sustainability labels for captured fish was, in general, low. Only the label of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) was known to some participants, and sometimes they only referred to it as ‘a blue label with letters’.
After presentation of five sustainable fish labels some participants recognized the labels of Naturland Wildfisch and Dolphin Safe. Overall, during discussions “tiredness” could be noticed because of the multitude of labels. Due to this “tiredness” and the low level of consumers’ perception of sustainability labels, participants assessed the credibility of the labels as rather low.
12.2011 - 3.2012