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Frozen fish products play in Peoria, says NFI-sponsored consumer survey.

Results of poll, released at annual convention, show firm foundation for seafood sales growth in USA. In other business, FDA official unveils new import strategy.

Does it play in Peoria? That is an expression used by Madison Avenue marketers and political pundits when pondering the salability of a new product or candidate among the American masses. Well, the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) has learned that seafood plays very well in the land-locked, Illinois town that symbolizes middle-America And it's clear that frozen seafood products are particularly popular in the heartland.

The results of an NFI-sponsored consumer opinion survey in the greater Peoria metropolitan area were released at the organization's annual convention held recently in Palm Desert, Calif. Among the findings from the random sampling of 311 residents were: * Costumers who buy frozen prepared seafood dinners (55%) do so because they are easy to prepare (53%) or because their kids prefer them (280%). Another 27% just plain like the taste. Of those who do not buy frozen prepared meals, 51% indicated that they not like the taste and 24% believed them to be unhealthy or fattening. * Eighty-six percent of the respondents said they purchase fish at grocery stores, only 13% go to fish markets, while 1% catch their own. They split on whether they buy more fresh (41%) or frozen products (40%). * The largest groups of those interviewed still preferred their fish fried (35%), but a total of 45% eat seafood baked or broiled. Fish sticks and fillets are the most popular form of seafood for children (24%), although 50% of the parents said their kids like fried fish best. * Chief among consumer motivations to eat fishery products is health, with 85% of those polled saying that they had increased their seafood consumption for health reasons over the past few years. One-hundred percent of the seafood consumers believed that fish is either very healthy (87%) or somewhat healthy (13%). Even those who did not eat seafood consider it to be a healthy food, with 83% saying fish is either healthy or somewhat healthy * The reason people might eat less fish included price (33%) or a change in tastes (21%). Sixty-two percent said that they would consume more seafood if it cost less. Only 9% mentioned any concern about safety or risk to human health. * Perhaps the most surprising revelation - contradicting an industry belief about consumer reluctance to prepare seafood at home - was that 83% of those surveyed do not think fish is any harder to prepare than meat, and 86% felt somewhat or very knowledgeable about preparing fish and seafood at home.

While the Peoria poll's upbeat findings give the USA seafood industry reasons for optimism, NFI Chairman Bob Brophy reminded the organization that there is a long way to go to reach the goal of boosting per capita consumption of fishery products to 20 pounds by the year 2000. The "typical" American today eats 14.9 pounds annually.

"Unfortunately seafood consumption has shown no improvement, and this year we'll probably see more of the same," assessed Brophy. He cited a number of reasons for it, uppermost of which is price and the lingering economic recession's negative effect on personal disposable income: Seafood is relatively expensive, averaging $4.50 a pound at retail, compared to $2.50 for red meat and $1.10 for chicken."

Donald J. Short, newly installed NFI president, had this to say during his acceptance speech: Fortunately, the survey in Peoria, and others, indicate that the [safety] confidence question is not pervasive. We are continuing to sell seafood in high volume despite its price disadvantages and the economic conditions hurting the country Nonetheless, the undercurrent of confidence erosion is there and NFI must lead the way to correct any apprehension that exists in the marketplace..."

Want Mandatory Inspection

The Institute's board of directors reaffirmed their support for mandatory seafood inspection legislation and voted to express strong reservations about the voluntary program recently announced by the National Marine Fisheries Service. In other business, the board authorized formation of a high level task force to evaluate the feasibility of seeking legislation for a generic advertising or "check off" program for the US seafood industry.

FDA Sharpens Import Eye

A number of informative seminars and workshops were held during the four-day convention. Among them was an update on FDA positions and regulations presented by Tom Billy, director of the Office of Seafood - Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

He advised that the FDA has adopted a new strategy in regard to seafood imports, which account for roughly two-thirds of the fishery products sold commercially in the USA. It involves the following: closer cooperation among state and local agencies to identify imports that reach retail markets; the initiation of civil and criminal judicial actions against importers who flagrantly violate FDA regulations; short-term targeted inspection surveys of specific product categories.

"At the same time, importers must do a better job - they must be more responsible to make sure the product they bring here meets our requirements," said Billy

"In addition," he added, "we are pursuing a new strategy for memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with foreign countries. Instead of pursuing agreements only with countries that continually have problems, we intend to seek agreements with those that historically have done a good job. This new philosophy will facilitate the entry of product from the countries that consistently export safe, wholesome, properly labeled products, eventually permitting us to concentrate our resources on the bad guys. During this fiscal year, we intend to pursue MOUs with Iceland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Norway."

DC Meeting Next Year

The Arlington, Virginia-based NFI staff will not have to travel far to get to the 1993 convention, which will be held in nearby Washington, DC, Nov. 3-7. Subsequent meetings will be held in San Diego (Nov 1-6, 1994) and Boston (Oct. 11-15, 1995).

Organizers hope that the nation's capital city will attract a strong turnout, as attendance has been down considerably from pre-recession years. The Palm Springs venue drew 735 delegates, which was about even with the 1991 count recorded in New Orleans.

In an effort to generate greater attendance (thousands of delegates were routinely registered in the early 1980s and before), an NFI study group is considering the possibility of again changing its convention dates and perhaps sponsoring a concurrent trade show.

One reason that attendance has been down in recent years, according to Gerald Abrams of Boston-based Fresh Water Fish Co., is because of a high rate of failures among domestic fish harvesting and processing concerns that is as much as three times greater than the national average for business bankruptcies.

"We're looking at a shadow of our once great selves," he said. "And NFI will continue to go as a trade association in the same direction as our domestic industry."

In a sometimes emotional exchange with members of the Institute's government relations committee, Abrams tried unsuccessfully to obtain a letter in support of an independent group that met with the US Secretary of Commerce in October to discuss what he called "imbalanced fisheries policy that hurts the domestic harvesting industry."

"We've got to move on this issue now," implored Abrams, "before there's an administrative change in Washington."

No letter was forthcoming, and less than a month later Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States. So its back to square one.

"There was just no way we could endorse a letter of support," one committee member said, "since no NFI members were present at the meeting, and no minutes are available."
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Title Annotation:National Fisheries Institute reveals results of survey at annual convention in Palm Desert, California
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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