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Nutrition trumps price when it comes to buying seafood: Study

Survey finds the vast majority of Canadians regularly eat seafood

Canadians are looking for value when they purchase fish and other seafood – nutritional value, that is. 

A new survey by the Agri-food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University found that nearly 87% of Canadians regularly include fish and seafood in their meals, with nutrition being the primary reason (64%), surpassing affordability (21%).

“The main reason why Canadians are buying seafood is for the nutritional value rather than the price point or how affordable it is,” says Stefanie Colombo, co-lead researcher, Agri-Food Analytics Lab. In fact, just 21% said the primary reason they eat seafood is affordability. “So, it’s important to Canadians to be eating something nutritious.” 

READ: Demand for traditional and plant-based seafood on the rise

When asked whether they would be willing to pay more for certified sustainable seafood, 40% of respondents expressed their willingness, compared to 24.2% who disagreed. Women were more inclined to pay a premium for certified sustainable seafood, with 47.2% of female respondents agreeing, compared to 32.6% of males. 

In Colombo’s view, that 40% is a high number of people, considering everyone is talking about the high cost of food. “To me, before we did the survey, (price) seemed to be a driving factor. But seafood is a bit different,” says Colombo. “People are willing to pay more because it’s probably one of the only foods at the grocery store that has a certifiable sustainability claim.”

British Columbia leads in weekly seafood consumption at 45.8%, while Quebec has the lowest at 27.2%.

When it comes to format, frozen seafood is the most popular choice for home consumption, particularly among Gen Z (49.2%) and Gen X (39.1%). While fresh seafood remains popular, with 31.5% of Gen X preparing it at home, the percentage drops to 16.9% for Gen Z.

Colombo says convenience is likely the reason frozen seafood is popular with Canadians. “Frozen seafood can be just a frozen filet, but there are also (items) that are already prepared. You can buy mussels, for example, that are already in a sauce… It’s super easy and there are cooking instructions, so (the preference for frozen) might be for simplicity.” 

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Canadians also prefer wild seafood, with British Columbians (67.9%) leading this preference. “Although most people say they prefer wild seafood, almost an equal number said that they had no preference – it didn’t matter,” says Colombo, adding that only 7% prefer farmed seafood. “So, (not many) said they preferred farmed, it’s just that they didn’t care or they had a preference for wild.” 

That said, many Canadians perceive farmed seafood as a sustainable method of harvesting seafood (35.6% overall). The researchers say income plays a “significant role” in this perception. Those with household incomes exceeding $150,000 showed the highest agreement at 53.3%, followed by the $35,000-$74,999 bracket at 50.2%, and the $75,000-$149,000 bracket at 48.6%. 

“I think people are recognizing more now that there are limitations to what we can harvest from the ocean and there are different ways to farm seafood,” says Colombo. “People are becoming more familiar and comfortable with that now than even 10 years ago.” 

Respondents were also asked about the importance of the humane treatment of sea life. Half of respondents said they consider how their seafood is raised, caught or handled to be important, and more females (59%) than males (43%) agreed with this statement. 

In the light of the findings, Colombo sees an opportunity for fish and seafood companies and grocers to improve their on-package messaging. 

READ: The challenge of green claims

“I find seafood to be really different at the grocery store than any other foods because there are so many different kinds, there are so many different species, there’s wild, there’s farmed… I would like to see more labelling and more claims, so people better understand where their seafood is coming from,” says Colombo. 

“If ethical harvest is an important factor for Canadians, for example, then give them that information and put it on the label rather than them not knowing. I think that will help consumers make better decisions about what they want to purchase.” 

And since most Canadians are buying seafood for its nutritional value, Colombo recommends providing consumers with better nutritional information, for example, the amount of Omega 3s in an item. “The information (would be) more readily available to them so they can make those important decisions.” 

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