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Eco-conscious shoppers becoming more adventurous as UK retailers expand sustainable seafood ranges

Karen Attwood

Senior PR Manager UK & Ireland   

Lockdown trend to support local fisheries continues with rise in sales of certified UK-caught species 

 UK shoppers are able to enjoy a growing variety of sustainable seafood species due to developments on retail fish counters and in the chilled aisle, according to the Marine Stewardship Council’s latest market report released this week.  

 The MSC UK & Ireland Market Report 2022 shows there are now 49 different sustainably sourced species available to UK and Irish consumers compared to 45 last year. This is a jump from 26 species ten years ago, showing the commitment to supply sustainable seafood options held across the UK retail sector. 

 Seth McCurry, MSC UK & Ireland Senior Commercial Manager, said: “Although seafood consumers in the UK rarely venture beyond the ‘big five’ species - salmon, tuna, cod, prawns and haddock – which account for a staggering 60 to 80% of all seafood consumed across the country, there are signs that shoppers are becoming more interested in trying new species. 

“National lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic sparked increased interest in home delivery services, giving shoppers an opportunity to support local fishing communities and try new species. 

“It’s fantastic that consumers are buying locally-caught species such as Scottish coley, Shetland scallops, and Cornish hake and sardines. It means fishing communities and the livelihoods that are reliant on these species are supported, while ensuring a sustainable supply of seafood for future generations.” 

 Coley, also known as saithe, caught by the Scottish fleet is often a more affordable white fish alternative to cod. A recipe from chef James Strawbridge in the MSC’s latest edition of its digital Ocean Ocean Cookbook, which launched this month features coley and aims to further promote this local, sustainable and affordable species. Sales of labelled MSC certified coley in the UK have increased nearly six-fold in the past five years. 

 Among the new sustainable species available from last year are MSC labelled European lobster from Jersey on sale at Selfridges, while Whole Foods also claimed a UK first when it introduced MSC certified red King crab. Waitrose made major commitments to supporting local MSC certified fisheries, introducing clams from Poole Harbour and King scallops from Shetland on their fish counters in the last two years. These efforts have contributed to a 59% increase in the number of MSC labelled shellfish products on offer to shoppers in the UK and Ireland over the past five years. 

 A growing number of retailers and brands are also choosing to source sardines from Cornwall because of the fishery’s sustainability credentials. Aldi have introduced MSC labelled Cornish sardines as part of a special-buy British fish range, while Iceland became the first UK retailer to offer whole frozen MSC Cornish sardines under its own brand last year. In other moves to increase the availability of domestically sourced sustainable seafood, the Hook, Line and Sinker brand introduced a chilled value-added MSC Cornish sardine product with Ocado, and Tesco worked closely with Scottish cannery, IFC, to become the first UK retailer to sell MSC labelled tinned Cornish sardines under its ’Finest range. 

 Shoppers in the UK and Ireland spent £1.26 billion on MSC certified fish and seafood in 2022. While this figure remained consistent between 2021 and 2022, the volume (just over 152,000 metric tonnes) of MSC labelled product sold decreased by 6%, as shoppers reverted back to pre-Covid-19 trading patterns. This represents a shift from purchasing higher-volume, lower-cost MSC labelled products, such as frozen and canned goods during the pandemic, to more lower-volume but higher-cost chilled products. 

 Despite this dip in the tonnage sold, MSC labelled products still accounted for an estimated 54% of the value and 51% of the volume of all wild caught fish and seafood sold in UK retail.