European consumer interest in seafood information and traceability

November 11 2005

The SEAFOODplus project 2.3 SEAINFOCOM aims at assessing European consumer’s needs for seafood information and the development of effective seafood communication. A major part of the activities focus on assessing consumer interest in information and traceability. Exploratory insights were gained from focus group discussions with consumers in Spain and Belgium during May 2004. Quantitative data (n=4,786 respondents) were collected in November – December 2004 from representative consumer samples in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and Poland, jointly with project 2.1 CONSUMERSURVEY


Authors: Wim Verbeke and Zuzanna Pieniak, Ghent University, Belgium


The focus group discussions revealed that the concept of traceability in general is poorly known among consumers. Belgian consumers had a better awareness than the Spanish, most likely as a result from media coverage and previous experience with traceability issues in the meat chain following the BSE and dioxin crises at the end of the nineties. Since consumers appeared to be insufficiently familiar with traceability, the focus in the survey was on information, which is basically the main benefit that traceability can deliver to consumers.


European consumers have the highest level of trust in personal information sources about fish. These include among others doctors, dieticians, fishmonger and family or friends. Trust levels are significantly lower for mass media or commercial information sources like retailers and industry advertisements, but on average they are not alarmingly low. This is also reflected in consumer’s use of information sources, with commercial sources receiving the highest use level. Combining trust and use levels yields the picture as shown in Figure 1. Doctors, dieticians, scientists and consumer organisations receive relatively high trust scores, but fail to be frequently used. On the contrary, retail or industry advertisements about fish, mainly communicated through television, are relatively overused or under trusted.



Expiry date, price, species name and weight are the most used information cues on seafood labels, packages or shelves (Figure 2). Consumers are most familiar with these cues and they feel able to derive clear quality expectations from the information these cues convey. Other cues like capture area, brand, nutritional information or date of capture are far less used. The likely reasons are consumer’s lack of familiarity, and lack of trust in these cues that signal typical credence attributes. 


European consumers claim a high interest in additional seafood information, as can be seen from the numerous items receiving average scores of five or more on the 7-point scale in Figure 3. The strongest interest is displayed for a safety guarantee and a quality mark for seafood. Whereas consumers show little interest in a batch identification number – how could they ever interpret or use this direct indication of traceability? – their interest in information cues that logically can result from traceability (namely a safety or quality guarantee) is extremely strong.


Consumer interest in information from traceability is determined by several factors. Interest in information from traceability is higher among consumers who have a high level of trust in fish information. It is also stronger among consumers who find ethical issues (i.e. preservation of natural fish stocks and fish welfare) more important, and among consumers who perceive more health and safety risks from consuming fish. Finally, interest in information from traceability is higher among consumers who have a higher subjective knowledge about fish, i.e. consumers who believe to know a lot about fish, which does not correlate very well with actual knowledge (correlation coefficient r=0.097 for the entire sample; see also Scientific Alert Note 1 from Project 2.3).


The conclusion from this study is that consumers show a strong interest in information cues that need some kind of traceability as back up in order to be credible or trustworthy. More than one third of the European seafood consumers show a very strong interest (scoring 6 or more on a 7-point scale) in a safety guarantee and a quality mark for fish, which is exactly what a good working traceability system can warrant to consumers (Figure 4). High interest in direct indications of traceability, capture area or a batch identification number is reserved to a niche representing less than 15% of the market.

The results from this study corroborate findings from recent studies on other food categories, indicating that consumers (will) use those information cues they are most familiar with, because these cues allow them to make quality expectations that most likely will fit with experienced product performance (Grunert, 2005). Furthermore, our findings with respect to fish confirm that traceability in the strict sense of a reference code or identification number, in the absence of easily interpretable quality verification, has little apparent value to consumers (Hobbs et al., 2005; Verbeke and Ward, 2006). The primary role of traceability is within the chain, with considerable potential though to guarantee safety and quality to the fish consumer as end user.

The findings reported in this Scientific Alert Note were presented during the Second Open SEAFOODplus Conference in Granville, France, 5 October 2005. For power point presentation click here.


Figure 1. European consumer’s trust minus use of information sources about fish; use and trust both measured on 7-point scale
Figure 2. European consumer’s use of information cues on fish labels, packs or shelves (mean scores, n=4786)
Figure 3. European consumer's interest in additional information about fish (mean scores; n=4786)
Figure 4. Percentage of European consumers scoring 6 or more on 7-point scale for interest in different levels of traceability information (n=4786)


Grunert, K. G. (2005). Food quality and safety: consumer perception and demand. European Review of Agricultural Economics, 32: 369-391.

Hobbs, J. E., Bailey, D., Dickinson, D. L., and Haghiri, M. (2005). Traceability in the Canadian red meat sector: do consumers care? Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics, 53: 47-65.