Inflation: The Daily Mail reported that price inflation on groceries in the UK has hit a new 12.4% record which means that shoppers will find that their food bill has risen by £571 to £5,181 per year. This is the highest increase recorded by research company Kantar since they began tracking prices in this way 14 years ago. Milk, butter and dog food show the biggest increases of 31%, 25% and 29% respectively. Kantar say that shoppers are now increasingly choosing supermarket own-label to drive down the cost of their weekly shop or by changing to a different retailer. This has seen Aldi overtake Morrison’s as Britain’s fourth biggest supermarket.
One product group that never seems to be featured in the newspaper price comparisons is fish and seafood, yet prices have risen by significant amounts. I record such changes for my clients, which over recent months has seen regular rises across the whole sector from fish counter to chilled and frozen.
Intrafish reports that the retail landscape for fish and seafood has also changed in the UK with this sector mirroring the wider changes. Discounters Aldi and Lidl are now placed three and four in terms of fish sales behind Tesco and Sainsburys. Aldi now has 12.3% of the retail fish market and Lidl has 9.2%. By comparison, market leader Tesco has 20.3%. Intrafish say that Kantar report Aldi’s share of chilled fish is now 10.4% whilst its share of the frozen market is 15.6%, just behind Tesco with a market share of 21.2%. Lidl’s share of the frozen market is 10.3%.
However, these figures do not tell the whole story as they do not reflect each supermarket’s commitment to fish and seafood. The size of sales in part reflects the presence of each retailer on the high street rather than the specific offering and as in the case of Aldi, that shoppers are trading down to look for better deals. In my opinion, Aldi’s fish offering is relatively poor. In chilled, it is mainly salmon, sea bass, and cod with smoked salmon and fishcakes. In frozen, the main sales are likely to consist of breaded or battered white fish and prawns. By comparison, Lidl carry a much better range of chilled fish, although frozen is little different to Aldi.
Of the larger supermarkets, Sainsbury’s appear to offer the most extensive range of chilled fish, which they continue to push to shoppers with regular price promotions. A couple of weeks ago, there were twenty-one products on offer, mostly with just 25p off. Sainsbury’s ditched all their fish counters whilst Tesco have still retained some of theirs, although why is unclear, as most I have seen look somewhat unattractive and I suspect shoppers feel the same as the fishmongers manning the counters seem to have very little to do. Tesco also continue to offer chilled fish on price promotion but with a smaller offering.
It is only necessary to look at Morrison’s fish offering to understand why they are losing ground. They have retained their fish counters and occasionally promote British fish but their counters look sad and again, staff seem to have little to do except wrap up loose fish in packs to sell alongside the chilled fish, the range of which is very poor for a large supermarket.
Asda was the first supermarket to remove all their fish counters and concentrate on chilled. A couple of times a year they appear to try to rejuvenate their range of fish and seafood but these never seem to resonate with shoppers and new products slowly disappear from the shelves as sales stall.
Finally, Waitrose are the one store that have committed to focus on counters with the widest current choice, although some stores don’t seem to do as well, which may reflect the make-up of the local population. Waitrose also are innovative with products offering a greater range of marinaded or with added butter chilled fish.
As I mentioned, prices continue to rise across the whole sector and this is countered by selected price promotions. What is clear is that this current level of price inflation will do nothing to help attract new consumers to the sector, rather it might deter many from buying fresh and chilled natural fish and seafood and instead turn to the basic frozen coated products instead for home cooked fish and chips.
Lockdown sales: Since lockdown began a couple of years ago, I have been tracking chilled fish and seafood sales in the UK. Previously, I had only looked at annual changes but with the start of the Covid pandemic, I began to look at changes on a monthly basis.
Initially, chilled fish and seafood saw a massive sales hike by 21.7% in April 2020. This was followed by small increases of less than 1% in the ensuing months. However, by spring 2021, these increases came to a halt and the upward trend began to reverse with a decline every month, albeit a small decline. I have now tracked a decline every month for the last fifteen months with the largest monthly fall of 2.2%.
Sales of chilled fish and seafood at retail are still higher than before the pandemic struck but it cannot be too long before the continuing trend brings sales to back below the early 2020 level. At this rate, this could well happen by 2023. Of course, consumers are now eating more fish out to offset the decline in home cooking but losing the ability or the will to cook fish at home can only have one outcome.
What they say: At the end of the summer, a number of journals including Aquafeed reported on the results of a new consumer survey undertaken by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council. They spoke to 12,000 consumers in twelve different countries about their perception and consumption of fish and seafood.
The ASC found that in all twelve countries health is the main driver for fish and seafood consumption with Germany and France leading the trend. More than 80% of consumers agree that including fish in their daily shopping is important for health reasons. ASC point out that consumers also love seafood for its taste which was the second most popular reason for buying fish.
The ASC say that they track global and regional progressions of seafood shopper awareness, attitudes, trust and activation relating to responsibly farmed seafood and the ASC certification and labelling programme. What they don’t explain are the actual questions that they posed to consumers. In my experience what consumers say and what consumers do are two very different things.
I have spoken to many fish consumers over the years and the one thing that is rarely mentioned is eating fish for health as a primary driver. Most consumers in my own discussions eat fish because they like the taste and that it’s good to eat. The fact that it may have a health benefit is of minor importance.
The ASC consumer survey also considered awareness and trust of the ASC label. Highest awareness is in the Netherlands with 66% of consumers recognising the label but the Netherlands is also where the ASC is based. The ASC don’t say which country has the lowest awareness but it seems that the UK is lower than 46% which is quoted as the figure for the US. This is despite the fact that the ASC also has an office in London.
With regard to trust, the ASC found that France was the lowest at 68% rising to 90% in Japan. Although seemingly awareness of the label is low in the UK, 80% of the consumers asked appeared to trust the label. How can they trust a label if they are not aware of it?
The summary of the survey results doesn’t actually mention whether the absence or presence of the label makes any difference to consumer purchase. Some years ago I wrote that if the Marine Stewardship Council label was removed from all British supermarkets overnight, no-one would actually notice and more importantly, it wouldn’t make any difference to sales. I still believe this to be true and equally, it would also apply to ASC labels.
I still maintain, the decision to buy fish and seafood is – 1. Does it look inviting? and 2. Is the fish price what I am willing to pay?
What they say 2: Reading about the ASC reminded me that earlier this year the charity FIDRA whose aim is to reduce chemical pollution and plastic waste, carried out a survey about consumer opinions on Scottish salmon. Why knowing what drives consumers to buy and eat salmon has to do with reducing chemical pollution and plastic waste is a mystery. In fact, it is also a mystery why FIDRA have jumped on the salmon farming bandwagon at all? It does not appear to be a ready fit with the areas of main focus.
The survey consisted of 21 questions covering five different area including demographic, shopping habits, influencing factors, knowledge of salmon farming, and labelling. The survey showed how little FIDRA know about the salmon market because they were surprised that freshness (appearance) followed by price were the major determining factors for salmon purchase. Factors such as certification and country of origin were of very low importance, hence why I believe consumers would not notice if labelling such as MSC and ASC were absent from the retail sector. Interestingly, many years ago the International Salmon Farmers Association found exactly the same results when they carried out a similar survey. Despite new certifications, better information etc, it shows how little has changed as to the reasons why consumers continue to buy salmon.
The survey contacted 672 UK based consumers of whom 531 ate salmon and responded to the full survey. According to FIDRA the respondents were primarily aged 31-40, female and in full time employment earning between £21,000 and £30,000. This is hardly a representative sample of the UK population.
One of the questions asked by FIDRA was whether consumers wanted to know more about Scottish salmon farming and 86% responded by saying yes. They were then asked how they would want to receive this information and 64% said that their preference would be to have this information printed on the pack label. In addition, 40% said that they would like to see the name of the farm where the salmon was produced printed on the label. FIDRA conclude from these and other questions that people are keen to receive as much information as they can about the products they are buying. However, I would suggest that these surveys simply confirm that what people say and what people do are two different things.
This is clearly apparent from this FIDRA survey. FIDRA say that it was important through the survey to establish how much consumers felt they knew about the Scottish salmon farming industry as in FIDRA’s experience many people were unaware that all Scottish salmon is farmed. Just 5% of respondents answered that they thought all Scottish salmon was farmed with 1% believing it all to be wild. 94% thought that there was a mix of farmed and wild.
Before I reach the crux of the matter, it is worth pointing out that not all salmon sold in UK retailers is Scottish nor necessarily Atlantic salmon. In addition to salmon from Norway, Faroes and Iceland, UK consumers can also buy wild sockeye and wild keta salmon. They are all seen as salmon by most consumers.
However, the main point here is that just 5% of respondents were aware that Scottish salmon is farmed, yet every pack of salmon sold in the UK states the method of production i.e. farmed or wild-caught and the country of origin. Some packs have the information on the front and some on the reverse along with other relevant information. If 95% of consumers are unaware that Scottish salmon is farmed then they have not read the label on the pack. If they haven’t read that information, why would they bother reading any other information that might be provided on pack labels?
Some packs already do state the name of the farm where the salmon was produced. Some retailers have also provided this information in the past but it was of such little interest to consumers that it was subsequently removed to focus on the type of information that is more relevant to consumers today.
The reality is that consumers are used to buying farmed produce. Whether the salmon they buy is farmed is no different to produce from terrestrial farms and therefore is not an issue for most shoppers. The information is available on packs and yet most consumers choose to ignore it. The question why is something that perhaps FIDRA should consider.