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Americans continue to increase seafood consumption.

American consumers continue to increase the amount of fish and seafood in their diets, but a recent nationwide research study by the National Fish and Seafood Promotional Council shows that it's the taste--rather than potential health benefits--that makes seafood such a popular entree.

The study, carried out in Tampa, St. Louis, Los Angeles and suburban New York recently demonstrates a clear change in consumer attitudes on seafood products since a similar analysis was done by the Council in 1988.

Taste and a means of varying protein in the diet are clearly the key benefits driving the increase in consumption, particularly among the heaviest consumers. Many said they initially ate more fish for health reasons, but made it a more integral part of the diet because of the flavor and change of pace it provides.

"When we started to eat more of it in my home, I think it was because of the health thing," said one New Jersey consumer who eats seafood between one and three times a month. "Now that we've eaten it more frequently and tried a greater variety, we like it and I think that's a bigger factor."

Increased availability, both at seafood retail counters and at restaurants, has also played a key role in increasing consumption of fish and seafood. "It's much more accessible now," said one medium user in Tampa. "Years ago, you couldn't go into just any restaurant and be able to get seafood." Additionally, increased coverage in the media, both in advertising and in news stories, has made many consumers more aware of seafood options.

Other consumer attitudes examined in the study include barriers to greater consumption, species preferences, popular preparation methods, cost factors, farm-raised fish, branding, shellfish warnings, pollution, fresh versus frozen, and emotions tied to eating seafood products.

The vast majority of consumers interviewed still believe that fish and seafood are either too difficult to prepare on a regular basis, or are too easy to ruin to justify the cost. A Tampa consumer who eats seafood at least four times a month said, "Steaks, you know what to do with. Chicken, you've been brainwashed for so many years what to do with it. But with fish--what do you do with it? It's not something that you grow up with."

Several respondents reported that their local supermarkets often distribute fish and seafood recipes and cooking tips and that these aids made it easier for them to cook fish, suggesting that aggressive implementation of similar consumer information programs could help increase the frequency with which fish and seafood are prepared at home.

Many consumers reported perceiving fish and seafood as a special treat--one that creates a positive emotional aura--something beyond what they feel about most meat or poultry dishes. This is particularly true for lobster, both because few people make it at home and because traditionally the cost has reserved it for special occasions. Additionally, the prevailing emphasis on avoiding fat and eating lighter, healthier meals has created something of a stigma around red meat and has made at least some consumers self-conscious about the foods they eat, particularly when dining in front of others in restaurants.

Fish and seafood appear to have acquired at least a minor role in image management and self presentation.

"I went to my high school reunion and there were special meals we ordered ahead of time--chicken or fish--and I had ordered fish...everyone at the table stared at me, like they felt guilty that they hadn't ordered fish. Everybody commented on it," said one frequent user in Los Angeles.

And a female, medium user of fish in Tampa added: "I eat seafood instead of steak so I don't look like a pig...It's more feminine, I think."

Each city in the focus group study hosted two groups of 10-15 seafood consumers. Medium users were defined as those who eat seafood one to three times per month, while heavy users were those who eat fish or seafood at least four times per month. All consumers ranged in age from 25-55, were not on medically supervised cholesterol reduction diets, and were not associated with the seafood industry or marketing profession.

Complete results of the study are available to the industry free of charge by calling the National Fish and Seafood Promotional Council at (202) 606-4237.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Frozen Food Digest
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Previous Article:Gradual increase in foodservice sales expected for 1992.
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