Aquaculture Magazine

February/March 2016

Can we really ever know what customers want?

The New Year commences and the media fills the vacant spaces with lots of predicted trends for the season ahead and people fill their minds with new hopes.

There is always new research hitting the headlines where issues such as buying local, sustainability, etc. are highlighted, however we must never forget that what drives the majority of consumers is perceived value.

Perceived value can occur in many ways. It can be the actual selling price but it can also be based on the experience in buying at the store and whether consumers feel any appreciation. Everyone that you deal with will have their own set of values and there is no one size fits all. The real issue is that EVERY customer is different so what works for one probably will not work for another.

In the area where I live we have three supermarkets (Coles, Woolworths and Aldi) and we are a 15 minute drive from Costco, plus we have 3 market shops (fishmongers) in the South Melbourne Market (open 4 days per week) and 3 fresh/cooked retail shops within a 5 minute drive. The seafood offering is strong and diverse. Only the major supermarket groups advertise to any extent and a recent advertisement from one of those (shown here) gives some insights as to what they believe are the triggers for sales.

From this advertisement what the supermarket believes sells products can be seen:

• PRICE is the major highlight - bold and showing ‘discount’

• Certification - gets two mentions 

• Fish name - is correctly mentioned

• Country of Origin - not mentioned

• How harvested – not mentioned

• Supplier/Brand - not mentioned

You can see and learn a lot from this.

The necessity for thawed, especially with this product as it is produced ‘Frozen at Sea,’ is interesting. The lack of public education about frozen versus fresh is obvious and clearly more information is needed at the point of sale. More about that another day.

To the uninitiated, there is the thought from this advert that the producer might be a group called MSC as they receive an over generous promotion with two mentions. Alas the producer is not mentioned at all and it is the certification company that gets that glory, and yet by far the majority of people would have no clue as to what MSC actually means.

As much as there is constant chatter about ‘sustainable’ seafood you rarely find any information about what this actually means in retail outlets. With organisations investing in various certification brands there must be some disappointment that certification organisations are not promoting their activities directly with the consumers. Large retailers who also insist on specific certification should outline their strategies in promoting what the certification means including the benefits.

Harris Poll Online has recently released some survey results which reportedly show Americans are possibly confused on the importance of choosing locally grown/sourced items.

Firstly there is the term “local.” “Local” suggests a geographic region, but there’s no particular agreed definition, and results from the survey suggest that this perception can vary based on the product.

When questioned on how far a product could come from and still be considered local, the answers varied for each food type with baked goods (77%), dairy (74%), produce (72%), and meat (68%) on the answer ‘must be within their state or closer’.

Of course, with seafood, no matter how strong one’s desire might be for purchasing locally sourced or grown options, sometimes it’s just not possible.

The main topics the survey highlighted as important considerations in Americans choosing one item over another were sugar content (69%), fat content (66%), sodium content (64%), and calorie count (64%). Wonder how many seafood retailers are promoting those issues regarding their seafood?

The perceived importance of buying local seems to be similarly bracketed with whether items are antibiotic/hormone free (53%) or contain artificial colors/flavors (50%), and is well ahead of whether items are organic (34%). Just as well really, seeing as how the USA relies so heavily on seafood imports for its seafood consumption.

Interestingly the survey shows that the perception of local food is higher quality (32%) and healthier (31%), whilst when asked if it’s better for the environment and it’s safer the perception is somewhat lower (25% and 24%, respectively). While buying local is known for many things, it’s not always known for being cheap with only 20% saying that buying local costs less compared to non-local options.

The bottom line, which of these factors actually make a difference at checkout? For the 81% of Americans who ever shop for locally sourced/grown food, supporting the local economy is the top reason for doing so (39%), followed by the food being fresher (34%) and supporting individual local businesses (32%). Not really that convincing.

What is it that customers really want? You can over-think this if you are not too careful. Possibly the best advice is to stick to basics, do them well, and simply aim to continuously improve in all your activities. Make sure you speak with your customers and make them feel welcome and that they get the feeling, even if it is only a perception, that you value their business. If you give extra service, if you have trained staff that can give good advice re: fish choices and if you make people feel welcome you can definitely add value which consumers will acknowledge.

Happy New Year…

And Happy Fishmongering

The Fishmonger

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