Sustainability & Informed Seafood Purchasing Choices

Posted: August 18, 2014

Sustainability is still not a top influence factor when it comes to seafood purchasing decisions and 44% of respondents do not ask any questions at all when buying seafood.

This was one of the key findings of an Added Value investigation into behavioural and attitudinal shifts within the World Wild Fund for Nature’s target audience for its South Africa Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) campaign.

Brand development and marketing insight consultancy Added Value has worked with WWF in the past to understand consumer behaviour and attitudes towards overall and marine environmentalism, as well as the effectiveness of the WWF-SASSI Consumer Awareness Programme.

The recent investigation highlighted that quality, taste, type of fish and price, were the main influencers when purchasing fish in general. For fresh fish, recommendations were critical while canned and frozen fish purchases were additionally driven by convenience. In restaurants, the way the fish was prepared also played an important role in decision making.

Added Value project director, Camilla Fanning expanded on the findings: “What is worth noting is that consumers are open to sustainable messaging and accessible information at point of purchase is likely to result in a shift towards more sustainable choices.

“Important positive shifts highlighted by the report included respondents stating that, if sufficiently informed, they would be very willing to change to a more sustainable seafood product.

“Whilst respondents claim to be very environmentally conscious and increasingly also expect this from companies and the government, it’s the retailers who are still seen as the main entity responsible for providing sustainable options.”


Fanning added that, while sustainability has yet to make it to the top 5 reasons for choosing fish, the SASSI campaign has started to make its mark on South African consumers.

“Our research showed that awareness for the SASSI campaign almost doubled amongst the target audience from 24% (aided awareness) in 2012 to 40% in 2014, with a skew towards high income groups and those in the coastal regions. Even if the campaign was not known before, it is liked, encourages the search for information and thinking about what choices to make.”

Janine Basson, Manager of SASSI, said: “SASSI empowers people to get involved and help drive responsible fishing practices, from either a restaurant or the comfort of their own homes, Ordinary people create extraordinary changes, and we have seen some amazing changes driven by concerned consumers. For example, some much-loved linefish species are now showing signs of recovery since SASSI launched almost a decade ago.”

In-store posters have shown the biggest growth in both awareness and usage of all the SASSI tools reinforcing the need to make it easy for consumers by providing them with all the facts at point of purchase.

As a result of this investigation, Added Value made a number of recommendations to the WWF to fine-tune its campaign and help drive positive behavioural shifts, some of which included in the following:

  • Sustainability as a word is not always understood and can be overwhelming for some, so keep the SASSI message accessible through single minded messaging in simple consumer language
  • Information on choices is highly appreciated but must be easily available and not depend upon actively asking questions before purchase, For example, a poster at point of sale is ideal to support the consumer in making smart choices without too much active involvement.


: How we buy and eat fish in South Africa


Canned and frozen fish dominate in-home fish consumption.

Fresh fish consumption is increasing (driving growth of fish consumption overall)

Major supermarket chains remain the most used outlet – Pick ‘n Pay being in the lead. However, Checkers continues to gain share.

Out-of-home is dominated by take-aways or franchised sit-down restaurants such as Ocean Basket.


Editor’s notes:

The WWF-SASSI (Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) campaign, which started in 2004, seeks to provide consumers with easy-to-use tools to help them make sustainable choices when it comes to buying seafood.

WWF-SASSI has developed an easy-to-use list based on a traffic light system (green= best choice from the most sustainable and responsibly managed fisheries; orange = think twice because there are some concerns either relating to the stock status or the fishing method/management of the fishery and Red=avoid completely/don’t buy because it comes from an unsustainable source).

The full WWF-SASSI list can be downloaded at Consumers are able to sms their fish choice to a dedicated SASSI hotline (on 079 499 8795) to receive a swift response letting them know whether to tuck in, think twice or avoid altogether.