Aquaculture is a growing sector that plays a fundamental role as a healthy source of food and nutrients for the world’s population. Fish and aquatic foods are associated with numerous health benefits, not only as a source of protein, but also as an exceptional and diverse supplier of bioavailable fatty acids and micronutrients. Moreover, is the main, and almost unique source of long-chain omega-3s, and its consumption is recommended by the World Health Organization1.
Consumers’ perception of food is evolving towards a greater awareness of the relationship between nutrition and health2. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for the agri-fod industry, which must develop innovative products that meet consumers’ expectations, such as functional foods. Farmed fish can be considered an excellent candidate for a functional food since it combines the innovation of the sector with the possibility to tailor muscle composition with health beneficial compounds. It is, however, important that consumers understand and trust the benefits of consuming functional foods and know that the health claims are supported by scientific evidence3.
In order to assess consumer acceptance of differentiated aquaculture products a comprehensive survey was conducted internationally, as part of the OmegaPeixe Project.
To carry out a comprehensive consumer survey, both nationally and in relevant European countries, a questionnaire was developed with the main purposes of:
Material and methods
An online questionnaire was designed, according to Hill4, to allow for the collection of information on the target audience - socio-economic characterization data, consumption data of fish and aquaculture products, level of trust and preference for aquaculture products. The questionnaire was disseminated by the project promoters, through their commercial and institutional contact networks, as well as through social networks. Additionally, relevant entities from the aquaculture sector and NGOs were invited to participate in the dissemination of the questionnaire to make it as comprehensive as possible. Responses were collected over a 5-month period from 16th September 2021 to 16th February 2022. The information collected was statistically treated in IBM SPSS Statistics 28.0 program. For comparison between groups, Pearson’s chi-square test (χ2) was performed to evaluate the association between nominal qualitative variables, with the following assumptions: sample number greater than 20; 80% of the categories with expected frequency greater than 5. To evaluate the strength of association of the chi-square test, Cramer’s V test was used for nominal variables and Eta test for ordinal variables.
In this study 1349 valid questionnaires were obtained, with respondents aged 18-82 years, 61.7% living in Portugal and 30.9% living in Spain, 4% in the other countries of the European Union, 2% in the other countries of Europe, and almost 2% of the respondents were in other Countries Outside Europe. More than 80% of respondents were active and the average monthly household income was over 3000 € for 21.1% of the respondents, and 33.4% spend more than 400 € monthly on food. Additionally, 88.3% have never worked in the aquaculture sector and 97.4% were fish consumers. Moreover, in total, 41.9% consumers preferred wild fish, 41.3% showed no preference, while 7.2% preferred aquaculture fish, and 9.5% fish from organic aquaculture. Consumers in the age groups of 18-27 and 28-37 were less likely to choose wild fish, and more choose “no preference” answers as to how it was produced, than in the other age groups. On the other hand, the age group 58-67 years showed more preference for wild fish. Respondents with High School diploma consumed less aquaculture fish, while College degree respondents chose more "no preference" answers. Furthermore, results showed that working or having worked in the aquaculture sector significantly favoured fish from aquaculture production over wild fish.
A low number of consumers showed preference for fish from aquaculture, indicating that consumers may not be ready to accept aquaculture products yet. Nonetheless, younger consumers, with higher levels of education showed higher level of acceptance towards eating fish from aquaculture. Moreover, consumers that work or have worked with the sector showed higher levels of consumption of aquaculture fish, suggesting that an increase in the dissemination and awareness of this industry could lead to an increase in acceptance and consumption of farmed fish by the general population.
Work supported by Project OmegaPeixe, funded by Portugal 2020, financed by the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER) through the Operational Competitiveness Program (COMPETE) - POCI-01-0247-FEDER – 069748.
4. Hill, A. Hill, M.,2009. Investigação por Questionário, 2ª Edição.Edições Sílabo, Lisboa.