Half of the customers who dine in their restaurants hold unfavorable views of Louisiana seafood after last spring’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the owners of 18 national restaurants said in a study released by Greater New Orleans Inc. The study found that the greatest negative effect the spill had on public perception of Louisiana and New Orleans involved views on seafood safety and overall demand for the region’s seafood.
“At the start of this research, GNO, Inc. hypothesized that the oil spill had significantly damaged national perceptions of Louisiana and Greater New Orleans, and that this impact was cumulative on top of the public opinion damage done by Hurricane Katrina and the recovery,” the study reads. “Generally, our research did not support this prediction. The oil spill generally had a small impact on voters’ opinions of Louisiana and Greater New Orleans, with the significant exception of seafood. The demand for, and opinion of, Louisiana and Gulf seafood has decreased dramatically as a result of the oil spill.”
The study, commissioned by regional economic development agency GNO Inc. and researched primarily by Lake Research Partners, focused exclusively on the impact of last spring’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill on public perception of Louisiana and New Orleans. It is the last of three studies the economic development agency commissioned on the spill’s impact. The first focused on the short-term economic impact of the spill on fisheries, the fishing industry and fishermen. The second reported on the economic impact of the oil and gas moratorium on the industry.
According to the study, restaurant owners said they believed only about 19 percent of their clients held a favorable view of Gulf seafood in 2010, compared with 75 percent in 2004. About 50 percent held an unfavorable view in 2010, the restaurant owners reported, a view they believe no one held before the spill.
“This change of opinion has the potential to significantly impact the type of seafood purchased by food service operations as price and customer feedback/demand were found to be the top factors which influence purchasing decisions,” according to the study. “… The combination of the low prices of imported seafood and the decreased customer demand could have a significant negative effect on the Gulf and Louisiana seafood industries.”
The views of restaurant customers were captured in a seven-question survey returned by 18 national restaurant owners that said seafood was important or very important to their business.
Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, said his group would use the information from the GNO Inc. study along with information it has gathered independently to define a more targeted marketing strategy.
“The purpose of a study like that is it gives us a broad understanding of what the pulse of the market is,” Smith said. “That gives us a baseline of where we are and what we have to do to move forward.”
In addition to restaurant owners, the study also included a comparably optimistic impression of Gulf seafood held by the general public. According to that survey of 1,000 people living in Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., a combined 54 percent reported having a favorable or very favorable impression of Gulf seafood. The number was slightly higher, 58 percent, for Louisiana seafood. Thirty seven percent of respondents held an unfavorable or very unfavorable opinion of Gulf seafood and 29 percent responded the same for Louisiana seafood .
The GNO Inc. study did not focus solely on impressions of Louisiana seafood. It also included surveys of the general public and of site selectors on the state as a viable place to live and do business.
Nearly three-quarters of the people polled said their opinion of Louisiana and New Orleans oil spill had not changed since the oil spill, according to the report. Ten percent of those polled had a less favorable impression. The others either had a more favorable impression or did not know, the study says.
“Compared to perceptions of Louisiana and New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, opinions remain relatively unchanged as a result of the Oil Spill,” according to the study. “Those who would consider moving to Louisiana are more likely to have grown positive toward both Louisiana and New Orleans since the Oil Spill, though not to the same degree that the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina provoked.”
Respondents noted the state’s culture and resiliency when indicating a more positive opinion. But, among people from outside Louisiana, those with less favorable views said they did not see the state as economically important to the nation and few voters considered Louisiana a great place to live, work and raise a family. Those Louisianians who viewed the state more cynically cited crime, corruption and racial tensions as dissatisfiers. The survey’s authors said the negative impressions carried “much less intensity” than the positive ones.
Site selectors believe Louisiana is becoming more business-friendly, but 27 percent also believe that there are fewer jobs to be had in Louisiana than in other states.
“Considering the results of this study, GNO, Inc. recommends a comprehensive, fully funded regional marketing campaign highlighting the business case and quality of life benefits of Southeast Louisiana,” the study said. “… Only a multi-million dollar marketing effort can have the reach and breadth to broadly affect attitudes.”
Despite the negative impression of Gulf Coast seafood after the oil spill, the study’s authors said the increased attention on the region and Louisiana, in particular, have the potential to bring positive attention to Louisiana.
“Interestingly, in all areas, including seafood, these disasters which were devastating in many areas, increased public awareness of the state and region,” according to the study. “This attention represents a unique opportunity to capture the public’s interest and present the nation (and world) with information about the economic opportunity and quality of life benefits Southeast Louisiana has to offer.”
Jaquetta White can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3494.