Due to the increasing number of diet-related chronic diseases related to Western dietary habits in the last decades, the concept of healthy eating has been strongly promoted both by public authorities and private food sector. Especially, food policy-makers have tried to promote healthy eating habits through information on food label like the nutritional claims. However, the effectiveness of food policies strongly depends on the understanding of the complexity of consumer choices.
For instance, even if fish is beneficial for human health (i.e. as an important source of nutrients and Omega 3 fatty acids), fish consumption dietary recommendations have not been widely integrated among the European population. This might be due to inappropriate, broadly oriented communication strategies, whereas information campaigns toward a specific target of consumers showed a higher impact on food choices.
Therefore, one question which food researchers in this field are trying to address is: what will be the drivers which will influence consumer’s demand for seafood products in the European Union?
To address this and many other issues in the fish sector, in 2015 an EU Horizon 2020 funded project named “PrimeFish” started. In sum, PrimeFish project is aiming to develop an innovative market orientated prediction toolbox with the aim to strengthen the economic sustainability and competitiveness of European seafood on local and global markets.
One of the studies is investigating how the consumer decision-making process is related to fish products and its attributes. The objective is to investigate the preferences of a European consumers sample for eight species (sea bream, sea bass, trout, cod, salmon, pangasius) with a focus on: price, production method (wild and farmed fish), convenience (whole, fillet and ready to eat), health and sustainable claim.
Another issue of the sector is more related to the supply. In fact, even if the EU is the second largest market in the world for fish, so far EU aquaculture has shown little growth or stagnated in the last few years (only 24% of EU consumption comes from aquaculture). However, aquaculture will probably surpass wild fisheries as the main source of seafood in the near future. It has become clear that sustainable aquaculture (from an economic, social and environmental point of view) is needed because fisheries alone will not meet the growing global demand for seafood. At the same time, local, tradition and small enterprises need support and help from Academic Institutions, Research centers, and Policymakers in order to be more competitive.
The Project partners in the PrimeFish Consortium, in which the University of Parma is part of, are mainly economists, market and consumer analysts and seafood industry experts. In addition, there is a close industry involvement in the project management structures in order to ensure practical implications of the outcomes. The final outcomes will be of significant relevance for all the stakeholders of the fish industry as well as the distribution channel (i.e. fishing associations, aquaculture producers, managers and the general public, including peer-educators).
So far, some preliminary results have been presented and last year I participated at the 31st EFFoST International Conference Food Science and Technology Challenges for the 21st Century in Spain, to disseminate the Project aims among the research community. For the next updates, stay tuned on http://www.primefish.eu/