Seafood sustainability consciousness and the price of a can of tuna

Seafood sustainability consciousness and the price of a can of tuna

Why are many retail groceries  stressing that the fresh fish on display in their seafood departments is from sustainable sources? After all, according to Packaged Facts’ June 2013 National Consumer Survey, less than 20% of consumers make a seafood purchasing decision factoring in the sustainability of the catch.

Partly it goes to show the power of the interplay between leading edge shoppers, seafood suppliers, and retailers.  The issue is already reaching critical mass in consumer consciousness, and will continue to gain traction thanks to the efforts of merchants such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Safeway, Wegmans, Harris-Teeter, Target, Aldi, and Ahold, all of which have been acknowledged by Greenpeace for the their sustainable seafood policies.

Sustainability in the fish and seafood category refers to the efforts to harvest various species in ways that keep their populations from being permanently depleted.  As noted in Eco Eating Culinary Trend Mapping Report (July 2013), a joint publication of Packaged Facts and the San Francisco-based food consultancy firm CCD Innovation,  some 50% of world’s fish stocks are considered fully exploited, and another 25% are overexploited, depleted or in recovery.  Bluefin tuna, Chilean sea bass and orange roughy are among the species that have been overfished to the brink of extinction.  And of the more than three quarters of America’s seafood that comes from abroad, much of of it is caught or farmed in ecologically dubious ways, according to James Beard-award winning author and Blue Ocean Institute fellow Paul Greenberg (Food & Wine, May 2013).

There are a host of government agencies, such as the Office of Sustainable Fisheries, and private organizations, such as Friends of the Sea and the Marine Stewardship Council, that are working with the seafood industry to limit catches so that further drastic depletion is avoided. Some of the associations offer certification to seafood companies and to retailers so that consumers can become more attuned to who is behaving in an environmentally responsible way.

At least to a degree, promoting sustainability is a great marketing strategy, according to OgilvyEarth, the sustainability communications subsidiary of the global advertising, marketing, and public relations agency Ogilvy and Mather. It notes that two-thirds of all consumers can be characterized as “Middle Greens,” who have good environmental intentions but are put off by efforts that seem more focused on the “Super Greens,” as well as by the higher costs associated with sustainable and otherwise environmentally correct products. OgilvyEarth refers to this as the Green Gap.

It’s obviously a good thing for so many retailers to be getting out in front on the sustainability issue, but what will it take to close the Green Gap? It could come down to the price of a can of tuna fish. Over 80% of U.S. households, according to Experian Marketing Services Fall 2012 Simmons NHCS Study, purchase tuna in cans or pouches. If tuna resources continue to dwindle, as they have been, the price of this very basic commodity could rise.  The long-term costs associated with non-sustainability would come to the fore, and take consumer consciousness about seafood sustainability to the next level.

For more information on Packaged Facts’ report on Fish and Seafood Trends in the U.S. (June 2013), see

For more information on our Eco Eating Culinary Trend Mapping Report, see