Counter measures

‘Multichannel marketing’ and livestreaming could get consumers back to the fishmonger, a report suggests

No nation is buying as much seafood on-line today as China – and that includes its older generation.

But what about the rest of us? The Norwegian Seafood Council has published a detailed report on how consumers like to obtain their fish, conceding it is not the easiest commodity to carry around when shopping conventionally.

The Seafood Council says the pandemic has clearly led to the Chinese changing their shopping habits. Victoria Braathen, its Beijing-based envoy, said it has also made the country increase its focus on healthy eating, a development which has to be good for salmon.

Tom-Jørgen Gangsø, Director of Market insight and Market at the Council, said: “This report is the first in a series of reports where we at the Norwegian Seafood Council take a deep dive into what is happening in the trend picture in the world, and how and why this is important to us in the seafood industry.

“This is particularly relevant now that we have had a global pandemic and it can be difficult to get an overview of what is going on, especially at market and consumer level. Since this report is the first of its kind, it will go a little deeper into megatrends as they lay much of the groundwork for what also affects the seafood industry.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly increased the use of e-commerce which now accounts for nearly 28% of all grocery sales globally, according to the UK-based analysis company Edge By Ascential.

This is twice the level forecast in 2015. The pandemic has put e-commerce two years ahead of previous growth predictions.

Significant growth is also expected in the years ahead with Asia, Africa and the Middle East leading the way (Edge by Ascential, 2020).

The Seafood Council’s report continues: “It is nevertheless important to note that the grocery trade will not be completely moved to online solutions in the near future.

“’Multichannel’, or ‘omnichannel’, is a term that is being used more and more. This means that chains have a presence both in the traditional sense with physical stores, but they also have an online version.”

The goal is to create as seamless an experience as possible between the two.

Another growing trend in this area , the study finds, is shop streaming. This is a combination of e-commerce and live streaming, offering customers the opportunity to digitally walk around a store and interact with what it has to offer.

The scheme was first launched in China, but is now an emerging trend in the West. Last Christmas the French supermarket giant Carrefour launched its own events on its website, carrefour.com.

The focus was mainly on toys, where they had promotions, demonstrations and interactions between customers and real-time service, but it would seem there is no reason why it cannot be adapted to include seafood.

According to the global media outlet Forbes, live streaming from store company websites will be able to provide customers with more information about products and help them discover new items they haven’t previously considered. It also creates trust among customers who come to see the retailers as experts.

Last year the Seafood Council asked more than 23,000 people in a number of countries how often they shopped for the likes of salmon online and found the top users were from Asia, with China the clear front runner. While the majority were in the 20 to 34 age group, at least 10% were from the older generation.

Ironically, Norway was at the bottom with only two per cent saying they use the Internet to buy their fish.

This is probably true of Europe and the UK in general, but attitudes are changing. A study of French consumers in 2016 found just eight per cent would consider buying fish on the net. When the same study was carried out two years later the figure had risen to 11%.

However, those same respondents also said they found the barriers to buying fish online were higher than those for other groceries.

Sustainability has also become a market driver for innovation and growth and if companies do not comply they risk losing customers. Eco-labels such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) are considered to be a “licence to play” in individual markets, the study maintains.

So the clear message is if your salmon is not certified according to certain environmental standards you will not be entertained by the majority of retailers.

Then there is the not insignificant issue of convenience which, the study, says, is not new. Back in 1958, Eugene J. Kelley wrote a research article that looked at the “increasing convenience trend” in the United States in connection with the expansion of shopping malls.

For him, people’s shopping behaviour was about the balance between the cost of goods and the value of convenience.

The report says convenience is also important when it comes to product format. For example, buying frozen packaged salmon fillets from a supermarket is often more time and space saving than visiting a traditional fish counter which may not be close to home and where the fish may still need to be filleted.

Studies by the Norwegian Seafood Council show that one of the most important drivers of shop selection is precisely that the shop is close to home or work.

Furthermore, 79% of respondents in its annual consumer study state that it is important that the seafood products they buy are easy to prepare.

But back to China. The Seafood Council’s Victoria Braathen says the Chinese love affair with e-commerce gives salmon and other Norwegian seafood an exciting trade and marketing channel and an opportunity to inspire and live stream with customers.

Other salmon exporting countries might like to take note!

Victoria Braathen