Labelling seafood is made necessary on oversupplied markets, such as most European ones, but is by no mean an easy matter. Pascale Baelde and Marie Christine Monfort - two senior seafood industry consultants - launched a practical guide to help the industry find their way and their benefits in using these marketing tools.
A different guide: from the point of view of seafood operators
Many reports have been written on seafood labels, most of them describing labels either from the point of view of the consumers and their expectations, or from the point of view of the promoters of labels and their objectives. The guide we have published (www.sea-matters.com) is the first of its kind in Europe. It reviews labels specifically from the point of view of seafood business operators (producers, exporters, wholesalers and retailers). In doing so, it also provides academics and public authorities with new insights into labelling issues.
The authors aim to guide seafood operators through the jungle of B2C labels, helping them ask the right questions and better understand whether and how labels can be of benefit to them. It may even be possible that, in the end, this report makes a seafood operator realise that B2C labelling is not the best option to differentiate his/her products.
The guide first describes trends in seafood labelling and questions some common beliefs and pre-conceptions, highlighting the essential questions that seafood operators must ask before deciding on which labelling scheme to adopt, if any. Between a EUR 10,000 or a EUR 100,000 marketing scheme, the one to choose is not necessarily the cheapest one, nor the more expensive one.
In the second part of the report, the procedures, obstacles and advantages of 15 labelling schemes are reviewed. The term ‘label’ is used here in its widest sense to include any type of positive signal on a product. Reviewed labels include a whole range of attributes (quality, origin, respect for the environment, etc.) and cover official third party certifications as well as private brands and self-declarations.
From selling a product to offering “a service”
On its own a label has little value. To be effective, it needs to be integrated in a well thought-through marketing strategy that includes all players along the distribution chain and up to consumers. ‘Selling’ products must be understood as rendering a ‘service’ to buyers, from the first buyer to the last one, a different service for each one adjusted to their specific needs. Seafood producers must have a good understanding of the organisation of their distribution channel and the needs of their buyers in order to ensure that their labelled products provide them with an additional service.
Offering a service to consumers is a more complicated matter. Their declared expectations about seafood are known to diverge markedly from their actual purchases, making them more difficult to apprehend and anticipate. Fishmongers or vendors on supermarket seafood stalls, in direct contact with consumers, play a particularly important role in providing them with information and answering their questions. They are in a privileged position to promote the added service, or utility, offered by a labelled seafood product.
Which one to choose?
The guide does not review the performance of labels with regard to their stated objectives and standards. It does not check whether fish bearing the Marine Stewardship Council ecolabel are more sustainable than others, it helps a seafood enterprise select the scheme that will best reflect its values and match its needs and the needs of its clients. There is not one labelling approach that is superior to the others; there is just one that is better suited to the specificities of a particular enterprise.
There is competition between labelling schemes, but how this competition works is not always as expected. From the point of view of seafood operators, and also from the point of view of consumers, choosing a label is not a matter of choosing between labels that advertise the same type of attribute, but between all labels and all attributes on display.
The game of B2C labels is to send positive messages to consumers and attract them with an immediate satisfaction: reassurance about their health, gustative pleasure, or attachment to terroir and tradition. Seafood ecolabels have a more difficult message to pitch: they do not provide consumers with an immediate and self-centred satisfaction, rather appealing to their altruistic concern for the environment: not a strong driver as yet when it comes to buying food.
Attracting buyers’ attention
In a context of overabundance of products price is a key element to influence consumers but is not the only one and other criteria are considered here. B2C labels designed to inform consumers have flourished on the food market and seafood is no exception. Seafood suppliers face a difficult choice: which label to choose? Which value to promote: A superior quality? A particular origin? A particular method of production?
The guide, written by two seafood industry experts from Sea-Matters, helps seafood business operators better understand the rationale behind labelling seafood and make the right decision.
The report is for sale on www.sea-matters.com