How much do European consumers know and believe to know about fish?

The SEAFOODplus project 2.3 SEA-INFOCOM†aims at assessing European consumerís needs for seafood information and the development of effective seafood communication. A logical first step was to gain insights in consumerís current knowledge about fish and the associations between knowledge and behavioural patterns. Quantitative data (n=4,786 respondents) were collected from representative consumer samples in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and Poland, jointly with project 2.1 CONSUMERSURVEY†(see Scientific Alert Note published 14-10-05).

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

Both objective and subjective knowledge about fish were measured using multiple items, which were merged into single constructs for analysis purpose. Objective knowledge measures accurate knowledge about a product class as stored in peopleís long-term memory, whereas subjective knowledge pertains to consumerís self-assessment or belief about what or how much they know about a product class (Brucks, 1985; Park et al, 1994). The findings from this analysis have been presented and discussed during the 35th WEFTA Annual Meeting in Antwerp, Belgium, September 2005 (Pieniak et al., 2005).

†The share of respondents answering correctly to the five statements measuring objective knowledge is presented in Table 1. Only slightly over three-quarters of the European consumers know that fish is a source of omega-3 fatty acids, whereas only around 40% know that fish is not a source of dietary fibre. These findings corroborate with earlier findings from Verbeke et al. (2005) who reported that consumerís beliefs about nutritional facts from fish are rather poor and often wrong, despite considerable communication efforts. The fact that salmon is classified as a fatty fish is better known than the codís classification as a non-fatty fish. Consumerís knowledge is poorest, particularly in the Netherlands, Belgium and Poland with respect to the farmed or wild origin of the fish they can buy. Objective knowledge is significantly higher among women, correlates positively with age and is higher among consumers with higher education, particularly with respect to nutritional composition.

European consumerís mean subjective and objective knowledge is presented in Figure 1. Danish consumers have the highest objective knowledge about fish; the Danish account for 57.2% of the 10.7% respondents who answered all objective knowledge items correctly. Subjective knowledge is highest in Spain and Poland. Objective and subjective knowledge are significantly correlated for the total sample (r=0.097), but the coefficient is very small; moreover, the correlation coefficient is insignificant in Poland and Spain, the two countries with the highest subjective knowledge level.

The correlation between subjective knowledge about fish and total fish consumption frequency is 0.28, whereas the correlation between objective knowledge and total fish consumption frequency is only 0.12. In line with Radecki and Jaccard (1995), subjective knowledge turns out to be a better predictor of market place behaviour than objective knowledge. Objective knowledge is even insignificant as a determinant of fish consumption in Poland and Spain.

Finally, subjective knowledge correlates much stronger than objective knowledge with interest in traceability, interest in quality marks, safety guarantee and information about health benefits from fish consumption. Especially those who think to know a lot about fish, but not necessarily have a good actual knowledge, are interested in receiving additional information and guidance for making fish purchasing decisions. Our findings illustrate that what people believe to know about fish, matters more than how much they actually know.


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Park, C.W., Mothersbaugh, D.L. and Feick, L. (1994). Consumer knowledge assessment. Journal of Consumer Research 21: 71-82.

Pieniak, Z., Verbeke, W., BrunsÝ, K. and Olsen, S.O. (2005). Consumer knowledge and interest in information about fish. Paper presented at: 35th WEFTA Annual Meeting, Antwerp, Belgium, 19-22 September 2005.

Radecki, C.M. and Jaccard, J. (1995). Perceptions of knowledge, actual knowledge, and information search behaviour. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 31: 107-138.