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.