Addressing the issues that impact on seafood's mass appeal ; Humber Seafood Summit, held this past month, had one overriding theme: Reputation and... [Grimsby Telegraph (UK)]
(Grimsby Telegraph (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Addressing the issues that impact on seafood's mass appeal ; Humber Seafood Summit, held this past month, had one overriding theme: Reputation and integrity. With the horse meat scandal and Hugh's Fish Fight, it was a contemporary subject that had the 200- plus delegates hanging on to every word. Business editor David Laister reports.
JUST scratching at the surface of the issue, and the horse meat scandal that rocked the meat aisles of Britain's biggest supermarkets earlier this year could have been seen as the ultimate PR boost for fish.
But the last hunted species is never far from controversy itself, and even the farming of fish has its critics.
Whether it is television-friendly environmentalists or out-of- context headline figures from scientific studies, there is always concern that the perception of what happens at sea, and comes out of the huge processing factories that make Grimsby a food town capital or Europe, is removed from a heavily legislated and certified reality. Karen Galloway, head of marketing for Seafish, said that as an industry, the fishing fraternity had felt it was in the eye of a storm, and everyone was talking about it, and was keen to find out what the genuine impact of the likes of Hugh's Fish Fight had been.
Industry was very concerned about likely consumer response to the programme, she said. A research project was structured around the Channel Four programme covering all aspects of the industry, updating previous studies some time before. Presenting the results in Grimsby, Mrs Galloway said: From the work we did in 2007, it does appear there has been a step change in fish awareness, its accessibility, and a focus to encourage them to purchase more.
Fish has been used as a hero product by Asda and Morrisons, consumers actually think there is more fish out there today than there was before. They are more aware of different species, they see different things out there, but getting them to change their buying behaviour is very difficult.
Stating barriers remained the perceived expense, bones, smell, scared to try, and for some groups as too light and not filling them up, Mrs Galloway said: That has not changed for six or seven years. And the 'S' word is there. Consumers are now starting to put sustainability in that fish lexicon. When they talk about seafood the word sustainability comes up spontaneously. When we did this work four or five years ago, we had to explain what it meant. It is now part of the language. That said, getting customers to explain what they mean by that is very difficult. It is 'do-gooder' mentality, they are doing something right but not sure what it means. So did the contents of a 'beef ' lasagne or burger nine months ago aid the seafood sector? There is no doubt that horse meat step-changed consumers' views on what is happening in the supply chain. People are thinking about what they are getting in a pack. Trust in all food changed in January this year. It is not just about horse meat. People think they are being conned, that 'someone is making a buck out of me'.
Consumers are eating less processed food, people think it is the power of the big guys, and that someone is 'making money at my expense'.
And what about the integrity of the wet fish counter? It is a lot more difficult to comprehend when it is fish, Mrs Galloway said. The issue with fish is always going to be different because consumers don't put them in the same box in their head. When you think about cows, sheep and chickens, they walk the same earth as us, and most children have had a cuddly toy variety.
Fish are cold blooded, slimy and there is just something quite freaky about them. When it comes to issues around fish, it is a lot more difficult to explain and understand.
Of Hugh's Fish Fight itself, Mrs Galloway, who said viewers often watch aware the 'star' will be trying to promote themselves or their products, said: Did people like him? Did they believe what he said? Did they talk about Marine Protected Areas to all their friends? Any television campaign involving a celebrity chef will divide.
Commanding a television audience of 13 per cent, 11 per cent and 9 per cent of the viewing public, Mrs Galloway said the consumer response was quite muted. It may be that they have taken more notice of the adverts.
There are more promotions, was a view of consumers, and they think they are getting a better deal, she said. They feel there are more accessible meal solutions, stating the likes of Gastro (a Young's Seafood range) and Saucy Fish Co (both Grimsby dishes).
Hopefully, an industry assured by the body that seeks to protect and promote it, the context the seafood sector works in was was put into perspective.
Peter Hajipieris, chief technical, sustainability and external affairs officer for Bird's Eye brand owner Iglo Foods Ltd, underlined the complexities faced by the industry. Addressing certification, he said: Seafood is more complicated than all the other food sectors put together. And he urged companies not to get too hung up on the detail for customers.
How many people know the safety standard of the air bag in the middle of their steering wheel? No one, because we trust the brand of motor vehicle. It is important to remember we trust brands.
And, while updating on the plans for a unified system that can hopefully ease issues over different standards in different countries, Mr Hajipieris gave reassurance to all consumers: The thing the food industry will always do is respond to a correction it needs to make. We are all DNA testing now, it is not going to go away, it is going to stay with us.
The use of such testing unearthed the horse meat crisis, itself only found because of work in seafood prior, according to Professor Stefano Mariani.
I believe the horse meat scandal was exploited as a result of the knowledge in seafood misidentification and mislabelling, said the leader of the conservation genetics team at University of Salford's School of Environment and Life Sciences. He cited DNA-referencing studies in North America between 2004 and 2008, and subsequent discoveries that showed one in four cod sold in Dublin was not cod, prompting major media coverage at the time.
We followed up with a study comparing Ireland with Great Britain, and the Irish Government decided to set up a food task force. If this media coverage never occurred about cod, we would not be worried that much about testing food.
In Ireland a few months ago, it was the first place where horse meat was found in some products. The fish came first and the horse followed.
Turning his attention to the sector, he said: In seafood the problem is much greater. Everyone in the street can recognise a pork chop, or a lamb chop, we are so used to seeing it.We consume different proteins, and the majority, unfortunately, are not fish.
He presented research that put the amount of fish found to be mislabelled at between 7 and 9 per cent. Whether that is down to fraudulent operators not wanting to get their act together or whether some of that amount is mistake because of the complexity in the processing chain, we don't know. We have to investigate this because it is important.
In northern Europe a lot of fish is traded skinless and boneless. We do have this tool now - this universal key now that is DNA. It can be used to identify everything, even if it has been tampered with, filleted, beheaded or chopped up.
Seizing on such errors falls to Dr Theresa Ekong, programme manager for the Food Authenticity Programme, part of the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs. She said: As demonstrated by the issue of horse meat, it is important that consumers have accurate information and have confidence that they are getting what they think they are getting. This relates to a very key principle in food labelling, in that labelling must be accurate and not misleading. That's the essence of food authenticity, that food is what it says on the label.
When this doesn't happen there are consequences. It affects confidence in the food chain and where food comes from, and compromises the sale and trade of authentic food. There may also be food safety implications.
Another consequence is an economic one. Those trading fairly are being cheated and those that are not labelling correctly are not playing fairly. It is also very, very clear that there is an element of fraud that actually affects the economy.
This is an area where industry is fairly heavily regulated by law. We have all these laws so what is the problem? Unless there is an independent method for verifying what the labelling claims, the laws won't be that much good.
And while media laws have made the headline of late, with Leveson and the Royal Charter, little can be done about some sensationalising.
Terje Martinussen, chief executive of the North Atlantic Seafood Council, said: There has been some nonsense like '100 cod left in the North Sea', referring to a scare story around the time of Hugh's Fish Fight. Don't be afraid, he reassured. We have the world's biggest cod stock, and we are trying to balance that message with a focus about what is going on in our fisheries. In that sense we are trying to reduce some of the uncertainty that is created in society.
Once that reassurance is instilled, Mr Martinussen was clear what the next message should be. The healthy aspect is something we should work more on and educate people that seafood is easy to prepare. Seafood is easy to prepare, he said, adding that it was great to see that Humber Seafood Summit had developed into a big conference.
Alan Hayes, senior sustainability analyst at IGD, a research and training charity that helps the food and consumer goods industry deliver the needs of the public, said: Trust runs right the way through. It is fundamentally important within the debate about reputation and integrity. Transparency isn't new. It is the way our activities, processes, procedures and the way we work in our industry is readily available and scrutinised by consumers, shoppers, stakeholders and the media. That's all it is. A two-way process giving access to infor mation.
The pace and scale of change, and the way people can access information has changed. The rapidity is why it is a transparent era, and that's why reputation and integrity has to be important. From a consumer perspective we are more informed than we ever have been before. Mr Hayes said understanding the shopper was rising up the agenda of retailers and suppliers, with five priorities now clearly defined as: pricing and promotion; personalisation; local; environmental and sustainability and health.
If you deal with making it easy for shoppers to deal with price, they will prioritise quality ingredients and health, which is important for seafood. Shoppers think very highly of the food industry when it comes to helping them deal with health. Seafood in particular is very well positioned to address obesity and heart disease. Fresh fish is rated second to fresh fruit and vegetables to deal with their health issues. That is how powerful a position the industry is in.
. ? Grimsby's reputation and integrity in seafood. See page six
Horse meat step-changed consumers' views on what is happening in the supply chain. Karen Galloway
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