NEW ORLEANS — A marketing survey commissioned by Louisiana’s seafood promotion board shows more than 70 percent of consumers polled nationally express some level of concern about seafood safety following the BP oil spill, and 23 percent have actually reduced their consumption.
The figures, a mixed bag of good and bad news for the seafood industry, are the result of online canvassing of a thousand households in December — the first of three “waves” of such research that will help the board craft a public relations message.
BP last year agreed to provide the state with $30 million over three years to fund the marketing effort, money the promotion board hopes to begin using soon. The state attorney general’s office will provide some legal guidelines for its use.
The percentage reporting in the December survey that they eat less seafood is less than half the percentage in a different post-spill survey.
“Still, you don’t want to lose nearly 25 percent of the market for your product,” said Dennis Degeneffe, a research fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Food Industry Center in Minnesota, who worked on the report with Wes Harrison, a professor in LSU’s Department of Agricultural Economics.
“If you look at who benefited from this, it’s the chicken industry,” Ewell Smith, the promotion board’s executive director, said Friday.
MRops, a marketing research company, conducted the December online survey. It contains breakdowns of attitudes based on region, age, education and “heavy” or “light” use of seafood — based on whether the respondent consumes seafood more or less than once a week.
The report also contains data on the amount of information people are getting about seafood since the oil spill, where they get that information, their attitudes about it and how they are using it.
Fewer than half of those surveyed gave “positive” ratings for the amount, adequacy or credibility of the information they have received about the spill from various media. And, despite their concerns, heavy seafood users didn’t now where more than eight of every 10 of their seafood meals came from.
Also in the report are measures consumers find the most “reassuring.”
“The most reassuring message for all seafood consumers are statements that communicate that ‘closed waters are opened only after adequate testing to ensure seafood safety,'” the report said, “but consumers report hearing less about these messages.”
No surprise to Smith. “You had over 100 days of TV coverage for this while it was going up from the bottom of the Gulf. And the minute it was capped, the media started to go away,” he said. “So that image has been left in people’s heads.”
Overcoming that image is not simply a matter of emphasizing safety, Smith said. “We have to show safety without necessarily saying safety,” Smith said. He said planned publicity on cable television’s Food Network and food industry trade publications will feature well-known chefs using Louisiana seafood — an implicit message that the product is safe.
“The chefs know how to source seafood,” Smith said. “A chef is not going to take any chances.”
The effort can’t come too quickly for Terrebonne Parish shrimp processor David Chauvin. He is processing Louisiana shrimp again but demand is down. “We haven’t had a single website sale since a month or so after the spill,” he said.
While Chauvin said prices are down for his product, David Veal, executive director of the American Shrimp Processors, said he’s getting reports of recent good prices for shrimp along the Gulf. “Obviously, some consumers are reluctant,” he said. “But that’s decreasing. As we might expect, time will take care of it.”