- Consumers prefer seafood entrees more transparent information at casual and fine dining restaurants.
- Country of origin was unimportant, showing customer choices at restaurants differ from those made at grocery stores.
- Consumers prioritized sustainability and would pay more for less expensive species if they were sourced sustainably.
UF/IFAS Food and Resource Economics (FRE) postdoctoral associate Ly Nguyen and FRE faculty members Zhifeng Gao and James Anderson have published a new research study examining how sustainability and information transparency factor into consumer decisions when ordering seafood at casual and fine dining restaurants.
Most money spent on seafood comes from restaurants and institutional food services sales. However, unlike seafood sold in a grocery store, there is no clear labeling regulations for seafood served at restaurants. Information provided on menus varies widely across the board.
“A discrepancy/variation may influence consumers’ faith and trust in foods served at restaurants,” said Ly Nguyen, lead author of the paper. “Without clear regulations on menu labeling for restaurants, consumers are faced with the challenge of self-identifying quality of seafood entrée such as country of origin, production methods, and nutritional and environmental impacts of their paid foods; consequently, consumers cannot detect unexpected substitutions or mislabeled food served at restaurants.”
The researchers conducted a nationwide online survey that would evaluate “Willingness to Pay” (WTP) for different fish attributes at both casual and fine dining restaurants. They designed one section of the four-part survey as a choice experiment.
For the experiment, participants would choose one of two similar menu options valued differently and with different information provided. This information included fish species, production method, sustainability rating, certification, and information provided on where the fish was sourced.
Seven fish species were used (salmon, catfish, cod, red snapper, pangasius, tilapia, and not specified (i.e., no specific species information is provided on the menu). The species selected in were from America’s most-consumed seafood species reported by NOAA in 2020 and have the greatest potential for unexpected substitutions in restaurants.
Results showed that consumers strongly prefer fish entrees associated with transparent information, regardless of the type of dining establishment.
Unlike previous research on grocery store preferences, the country of origin was the least important when it came to consumer preference for seafood entrée.
Preference for sustainability was also demonstrated clearly in several different findings. In addition to sustainability rating being one of the top two essential attributes for all fish entrees, it was also shown that lower-valued fish benefit more from sustainability labeling. Certification also increases the probability of an entrée being selected.
“The results from this are beneficial to restaurateurs, seafood suppliers, and policymakers in analyzing the costs and benefits of providing more transparent information on restaurant menus (restaurant owners), storing and tracing food to its source (producers), and providing better labeling policies at restaurants to encourage information transparency that could bring benefits to both consumers and suppliers,” Nguyen said.
The full article was published in Food Policy, Volume 110, and is available to download and read at ScienceDirect.