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Vast majority of British consumers expect retailers and restaurants to provide sustainable seafood options: survey

  • 71% believe that it is important that supermarkets sell sustainably caught seafood
  • 60% feel that it is important that restaurants show that they have sustainable seafood options
  • Ecolabels most trusted source of information when making sustainable buying decisions
  • Poll surveyed shoppers at Sainsbury’s, Tesco, M&S, Waitrose, Asda and Morrisons

New independent research into seafood buying behaviour published today shows that the vast majority of British consumers expect sustainable options for fish products in supermarkets and restaurants, and trust ecolabels to inform their decisions more than brand promises.

In the UK, 71% of respondents said they believed that it is important that supermarkets sell sustainably caught seafood, while 60% agreed that restaurants should show that they have sustainable seafood options, even though only 6% said they had seen seafood ecolabels on the menu when they eat out.

Respondents also said they trusted ecolabels on products (61%) more than recommendations from family/friends (57%), information from supermarkets (48%) and the brand’s own promise on products (41%).

The research, conducted on behalf of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), is believed to be the world’s largest international survey of sustainable seafood consumption. It questioned 610 regular seafood buyers in the UK, and 9,019 across 15 countries in Europe, Asia, Australasia and North America.

Increased demand for sustainable seafood

Globally, almost all (90%) respondents thought that ocean sustainability is important, with 55% saying that falling fish stocks has become a more important issue than it was a year ago. In the UK, 67% of respondents agreed that buying sustainably caught seafood would help to ensure fish stocks for future generations, slightly higher than the global average of 60%.

Supermarkets and restaurants are seen to have a key role in ensuring the sustainability of seafood. Almost two thirds (65%) of those surveyed agreed that it’s important for supermarkets to make sure that they are selling sustainably caught fish.

Recent increases in the number of MSC ecolabelled products suggest that retailers are responding to these demands. Globally, the number of seafood products carrying the MSC ecolabel increased fivefold to more than 25,000 between 2010 and 2014.

Changing trends

In the UK, the trend for buying sustainable seafood looks set to continue with two-thirds of respondents intending to buy more MSC labelled seafood in the future, while the same proportion said they would advise friends or family to do the same.

With MSC ecolabelled products now available in around 100 countries, the survey found that a third (33%) of the regular seafood buyers recognise the MSC ecolabel. This represents an increase of 8% compared with countries surveyed in 2010.

Price and traceability paramount

The worldwide retail market value of consumer facing MSC ecolabelled sustainable seafood reached US$4.8 billion in 2013-14, an increase of 147 per cent since 2010.

Globally, price remains the one of the primary factors determining seafood purchasing decisions (79%), with traceability of the product (66%) and its sustainability (61%) also ranking highly. However, respondents did express an increased willingness to pay a little more for a product with an ecolabel (39% compared with 32% in 2010).

With the recent food traceability scares raising questions about food labelling, the demand for traceable products is most significant in the UK, rising from 61% in 2012 to 67% in 2014.

Toby Middleton, Senior UK manager at the MSC, said:British consumers have demonstrated once again that they are ahead of the curve when it comes to demanding sustainable seafood. Some retailers and restaurants have responded well to this demand, but others have much further to go to meet the expectations of shoppers and diners when it comes to for sustainable seafood.

“British consumers have also shown that ecolabel credibility is important to them and place a premium on our assurance that the food they are purchasing can be traced back to a fishery which has been independently assessed to meet the MSC’s strict scientific standards for sustainable fishing.”

The MSC ecolabel which can now be found on more than 25,000 products worldwide:


About this research

In the UK, 610 respondents were surveyed. In total, 9,019 respondents were questioned across 15 countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the USA. Research programming, checking and analysis was conducted by research company amr, who commissioned local online survey providers to question seafood consumers within these countries. Surveys took place between 19 March to 25 July 2014 and are compared to similar research undertaken by amr in 2010 and 2012.

Respondents were limited to those who:


  • Are mainly / jointly responsible for buying the food for themselves / their family
  • Have brought a fish product at least once every two months from their main store
  • Do the majority of their grocery shopping in one of up to six nominated stores.

Quotas were set to achieve an equal number of shoppers at each store and to take into account dual languages where relevant.  All open questions were coded to a universal code frame using native speaking coders to ensure the correct interpretation.

Find out more and download the infographic >