5 'game-changing' consumer trends a boon to traceable seafood

August 4, 2015

A new report identifies five “game-changing” consumer trends that could drive future growth for traceable seafood. For small and medium-sized enterprises, opportunities will increasingly be driven by tech-savvy, conscientious consumers who are empowered by the Internet and who are concerned about their health and the planet.

The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) recently published the report, titled Mapping Your Future Growth: Five Game-Changing Consumer Trends, which included an Ipsos survey of 1,023 Canadians on consumer behaviours.

Here are the five game-changing trends and what they will mean for seafood traceability: 


“The Internet,” states the report, “now shapes nearly every aspect of a consumer’s purchasing decision.” Nine out of 10 consumers claim to use their smartphone for pre-shopping activities, and three out of five say they use it to find the location and opening hours of a business that offers a particular product. More than two in five Canadian consumers use their smartphone to find promotional offers, one-third check product reviews and a similar proportion verify product availability in local stores.

Digital supply chains and seafood traceability have the opportunity to deliver unprecedented information into the hands of hungry customers. The result will be growing trust and loyalty, and opportunities for social marketing through online reviews and referrals from friends and family. A study from the Boston Consulting Group shows that business with a well-developed web strategy have experienced revenue growth that was up to 22 percent higher than other businesses.


By 2031, 25 percent of Canadians (approximately 9 million people) will be over 65 years old, compared to 14 percent today. As we grow greyer, we also grow more conscientious about what we eat. Older consumers now look for products and services to help them maintain and improve their health.

Studies have shown that health concerns are the greatest driver of increased seafood consumption, especially among older adults. Seafood has a well-earned reputation for being a low-fat protein source with the added benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients. Unfortunately, the seafood industry is also rife with seafood mislabeling (see Oceana research), which can have negative health impacts. Traceability can protect against mislabeling and provide consumers with the added assurance that their product was harvested from a pristine environment. Concerns about mercury contamination, water pollution and radiation leaks from the Fukushima nuclear power plant could make seafood provenance even more important in the future.


Consumers are increasingly using their wallets to influence companies to adopt more responsible practices. In fact, close to six in 10 Canadians consider themselves ethical consumers. People want products that reflect their own values. These values could include environmental protection, animal welfare, child-free labour, fair trade and buy local. According to the BDC survey, close to two-thirds of Canadians claim they have “made an effort” to buy local or Canadian-made products in the past year. Nearly three-quarters of consumers say they will pay more for locally produced food, in part because most believe it is fresher and tastier. Similarly, most Canadians say they would pay more for a restaurant meal if all the ingredients were produced locally.

Consumers currently have very little access to detailed information about the seafood they eat. Even if the species and country of origin is properly labelled on seafood, consumers still likely won’t know how it was caught or if it's sustainable. But by tracing seafood directly to its source, ThisFish can help consumers make more informed, responsible choices. As the “locavore” food movement grows, traceability will also provide added assurance that food is harvested locally or from a specific region, province or country.


“Consumers are progressively moving away from the traditional consumption of standardized, mass-produced products that defined the 20th-century industrial revolution,” states the report. “They are increasingly looking for custom-made solutions that fit their specific needs and becoming more engaged in product creation.” In fact, the BDC survey found that in Canada, on average, only about one in three consumers considers the corporate brand a decisional factor for most of their purchases. “This makes it even more crucial for companies to foster truly engaging interactions with their products to keep their customers loyal,” concludes the report. 

Consumers aren’t the only ones who want personalization and engagement. Fish harvesters have grown tired of commodity markets looking for the lowest priced fish, regardless of the quality and care put into responsibly harvesting the catch. It was a group of fish harvesters, in fact, who approached Ecotrust Canada in 2008 to develop a seafood traceability system which would allow them to personally brand their catch and connect with consumers. These social networking features were built into ThisFish, allowing consumers to send comments directly to harvesters and for people to actually see the faces of the people harvesting their seafood. Personalization and engagement are core to ThisFish.


The lingering effects of the recession, 2008 financial crisis and high consumer debt are having a lasting impact on consumer behaviour. People are bargain hunting, using new group coupons (pioneered by Groupon) and engaging in the “sharing economy” whereby they borrow, rathern than buy, goods and services. According to the BDC survey, seven out of 10 Canadian consumers have reduced their spending since the recession, and more than two in five now shop around more than they did before the recession.

Tight purse strings isn’t good news for the seafood industry. The high price of seafood is often cited as one of the main factors driving down seafood consumption. The key for higher-cost, local producers in North America is differentiation and value for money. Nova Scotian haddock producers, for example, simply can’t compete against factory trawlers catching massive volumes of haddock in the Barents Sea which is then treated, frozen and packaged in China. Instead, Nova Scotian producers need to differentiate their haddock as fresh, local, eco-certified and traceable. Consumers are willing to pay more for a product if they believe they are getting added value for the higher price. Tangier Lobster, as another example, is using traceability to sell quality, graded lobsters to premium markets in the United States and Europe.