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Fukui's Monthly News Letter
Labeling Laws Problem or Opportunity
The following column applies to all seafood and
not just shellfish that I usually focus on.
There has been a lot of discussion of late on the new US
laws, regarding the labeling of seafood. There have been
many debates, comments, statements, news articles, and
editorials on the value of this initiative and weather
it will have a positive or negative impact on the industry.
As an observer and with the level of participation
I have in this industry I am many times in a unique
position to see issues that many only see one side of.
From this perspective I gain new references that when
combined with those I have, the overall understanding of
solutions as wells as pro's and con's are much clearer.
So let's look at labeling and what it means to
the seafood industry. Firstly labeling has been in place
with food stuffs and other consumer items at the retail
level for some time. In essence it was developed over
time as a way to address consumer information needs that
would allow them to making a buying decision on products
at the point of purchase.
I have written about this before and it is
important that you think about the following;
1/ At the supermarket check out counter, 75% of
what is in the shopping basket the consumer did not know
they were going to buy before entering the store.
2/ People go to food stores not to purchase food
but to buy packages with food inside them.
3/ At 4:30 in the afternoon most households do
not know what they will have for dinner yet.
When you understand these statements it becomes
very obvious that value of labeling especially in the
seafood business at the retail level where most retailers
have very poor performance on a per sq. ft. bases.
As well consumers are demanding to know more about
what they are consuming, nutritional values, where it is
from, best buy dates etc. With the amount of information
that is available to consumers today by TV newspaper internet
etc. it is easy to see why they have concerns of what they
are eating and where it is from as in general bad news
especially about food travels very fast. Look at what
happened to the beef industry consumption, when mad cow
disease was in the press.
So why is it that there are so many opponents to
labeling within the seafood sector, they have missed many
chances over the years, to build customer loyalty however
with the exception of large well organized processors that
understand the buying habits of consumers little has changed.
Many are citing the cost factor of doing this and
have pegged the industry cost to be in the billions of
dollars. The reality however is that it will cost pennies
per serving which can easily be passed on to the consumer
with out much of any complaints as it is a service for
which they have asked for.
There are many who may be pointing fingers at the
catfish farmers for starting this issue of labeling within
seafood because of the price and market pressure of less
expensive imports of "basa" from Vietnam, that was being
passed off as catfish.
In there efforts to address the issues, it was
brought forward the need to have product identification
so that consumers would know what they were getting was
grown in North America fresh catfish. It is my belief
that the direction that product identification was taking
had been forming long before this issue however it did
bring it to the forefront of the industry.
The catfish farmers were right in the initiative
however maybe for the wrong reasons, they certainly
deserved to protect the industry they had created. All
you have to do is look at the efforts of the Catfish Marketing
Institute and you begin to realize how much effort they had
put into creating the industry. Converting the negative image
catfish had in the consumer eyes and then to ramp up production
to consistently deliver a quality, product was no easy task.
What they had stumbled into however, was a change
that is happening globally especially with fresh food
products at the retail level. This change is driven by
consumer demands and their need to know what they are
consuming and where it is coming from. The catfish
industry were rewarded by the increased new acceptance
and consumption of their product which was now being
Their story demonstrates the value of labeling
for the farmed seafood sector, as with the control that
the industry has on quality, quantity, delivery times and
consistent supply it is an opportunity to get the message
out to the people that are asking for it.
In early November I attended the Los Angeles
Seafood show, to show case our point of sale automated
seafood packaging system that addresses the issue and
provides product labeling information at the pick up point.
When we studied this market sector some time ago
we found out that less and less information was available
at the seafood counter and that the change in retail
distribution from smaller specialty retailers to big box
and hypermarket outlets was allowing consumers more choice
than ever for their shopping pleasure.
Weather it was shellfish on ice, crustaceans,
whole fish, steaks, roast or fillets nothing was easy
for the consumer by themselves to purchase. As a matter
of fact in cases where advertising or generic information
was available it was generally lost at the pick up point
because there was little or no effort to identify the
product itself with labeling initiatives.
Everything seemed exactly opposite with seafood
to where the retail sector was going, it was almost as
if the seafood industry was stuck in a time warp that
was set up to resist and defy change.
Like the Boston Seafood Show, the LA show has a
number of seminars with topics that are industry related.
I was invited to present on the market research we had
been doing as well as to explain to seafood buyers the
new technologies that are used in growing shellfish
including what is being done with larvae, intensive
nurseries, advanced grow out systems, processing,
secondary processing, packaging, quality control,
safety issues, attached information and branding.
Few in the audience had been exposed to this
information and were very surprised at what was now available
to them, these were seafood industry people that know their
end of the business very well.
Towards the end of my presentation I had
individuals fill out a questioner on what they had
learned and what they could do with it. The second last
question was " Would you or your company be willing to
put effort into creating new customers that would buy
shellfish more often at a premium price if quality, safety
and branding strategies were offered to you?" All answered yes!
The last question was " If the product were to
cost up to 20% more would your answer be the same?" All
This from people that's jobs are to buy as low
as they can, amazing what information will do.
I talked with one of the participants after and
he admitted that he would not had have answered yes to
the questions had he not found out what shellfish growers
can now provide, it was his understanding that he could
only sell what was offered to him as bulk commodity. Now
that he understood he easily started to think of
developing new customers now that he knew what and how
it was available.
So what have we learned, well for some probably
little however for those that produce farmed raised,
quality, safe seafood and are proud of it here is your
chance to allow a rule to work in your favor by taking
advantage of a labeling law that will allow you to get
the valuable branded information about your product out
to the consumer at their level. Set an objective and a
plan to reach, the answers are there you just have to
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