Why the Big 5? Understanding UK Seafood Consumer Behaviour
BF | BJ | HF | SH
UK consumers bought just under 500 thousand tonnes of seafood in 2010, at a cost of £3.8bn. Despite rising prices, consumption is on a general upwards path, with the average UK adult now eating 2% more seafood than they would have eaten a generation ago, and demand predicted to grow by a further 17% by 2030. However, this demand is increasingly restricted to a narrow range of imported and wild-caught species (Cod, Haddock, Tuna) and farmed products (Salmon and Prawns) over locally-available species with the consequence that between 60% and 80% of UK domestic landings are currently exported and 80% of all the seafood eaten in the UK is one of either Cod, Haddock, Salmon, Tuna or Prawns – the so-called Big 5. The shortage of local markets for native fish species is arguably reducing the relative viability of small scale, over large-scale, fisheries in the UK. It also increases pressure upon wild stocks of commercially valuable species and is driving the rapid expansion of fish-farming operations which can have negative environmental and social implications. Considering the above, it is suggested that UK consumers could make a positive contribution to the UK economy and marine environment if they chose to buy native, locally-caught species, over farmed and exotic imports. In order to achieve this, however, significant behavioural change would need to take place; and for behavioural change initiatives to be successful, it is argued that it is first necessary to understand why these consumption patterns have developed, i.e. Why the Big 5? \ud Accepting that no single theory has been found that can fully explain behaviours from intentions, this research used mixed methods to develop a consumer-centric view of the full range of factors that might be driving these unsustainable consumption patterns. Regular consumers of seafood from four contrasting localities in England were recruited to complete surveys, maintain shopping diaries and to take part in group and one-to-one interviews to understand their reasons for eating seafood in general and the Big 5 in particular. Drawing on the Literature on seafood consumption, demographic and geographic-induced differences in consumption were explored; and consumer understanding of, and concern for, the sustainability of their seafood was assessed. Retail behaviour was also examined by undertaking an on-line review of the seafood offered for sale by the UK’s five largest retailers. \ud Consumers were generally ill informed and confused about the sustainability of their seafood and had little to no awareness of labelling. In their confusion/apathy, they tended to revert to habitual behaviours and safe choices tending towards the Big 5. They felt strongly that retailers should be making it easier for them to make sustainable choices. The evidence from this study is that Retail is failing in this respect. Interest in and demand for local seafood was very high, with consumers equating local with sustainable, even though the evidence to support this assertion is currently lacking. Consumer definitions of “local” and “sustainable” were found to vary from accepted policy and academic understanding, presenting the possibility of adding to consumer confusion when communicating about sustainable seafood; further, “sustainable” possessed negative connotations for these consumers who, in stark contrast to the average UK consumer, were found to score highly for Hedonism.\ud \ud In total, twenty eight distinct variables were identified as influencing unsustainable UK seafood consumer behaviour. Key amongst these were consumer ignorance/apathy regarding sustainability; retail behaviour; and habit – factors that are presented in the Trifold Model of Unsustainable Consumer Behaviour. This model brings much needed clarity to a complex and poorly understood area of consumer behaviour and marks a significant contribution to three areas of academic study: Sustainable Consumption; Consumer Behaviour; and Business Ethics. \ud The Trifold Model is presented for further testing. Recommendations for policy and industry are highlighted as are areas for further research.
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