Seafood companies embrace traceability

Consumers cite sustainability as a top priority when purchasing seafood.

According to the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), total global capture and aquaculture production of fish climbed to more than 177 million tons in 2012. With greater demands, there will be a need for the seafood industry to trace products from the sea to the store to focus on food safety as well as efficient business practices.

A new report issued by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) at Seafood Expo North America highlights the growing need for traceability as a means to improving seafood industry performance, including reducing waste and enhancing consumer trust.

The research confirmed that the more that companies embrace traceability (practices and systems), the more benefits and real business value they achieve. Based on interviews of more than 80 individuals in 48 companies across nine international seafood supply chains, the research revealed that traceability is more highly valued by businesses, regardless of their size, if they have a culture of cooperation and engage in highly collaborative activities with their suppliers and customers.

Individual businesses were split when they conveyed the greatest benefits from improved traceability practices and systems, IFT said. Some stated that the benefits to safety and public health are the most notable. Others maintained that by applying traceability to management of supply chains, more significant business and industry-wide benefits are achieved. These business benefits included the ability to recall products more effectively, to increase access to new markets, to lower costs through improved supply/value chain management and to substantiate sustainability claims.

"The business people we interviewed all agreed that there needs to be a concerted effort to create a global, interoperable seafood traceability system," William Fisher, IFT vice president of science and policy initiatives and GFTC executive director, said. "This includes agreement that a seafood traceability system needs to be built on a common technology architecture; one that takes into consideration the existing standards and protocols that have already been proven."

Consumer preferences

The research also examined consumer perceptions about seafood, and how traceability influences their purchasing decisions. A survey of consumer buying influences in five nations (Canada, China, Germany, the Netherlands and the U.S.), found differences in the consumption habits of consumers residing in each of the five countries.

While consumers in different countries exhibited substantially similar attitudes towards the seafood species (tuna, salmon, shrimp and mahi-mahi), the most popular packaging forms and purchasing channels vary significantly, IFT said.

Another significant finding was that consumers value verification that a seafood product is produced or harvested in a sustainable manner even higher than confirmation that the fish is actually what is advertised or labeled, IFT noted.

In addition to the findings, the project delivered a software tool that assists any company in calculating the return on investment and creating their own business case for investment in traceability. This Seafood Financial Traceability Tool was developed with the assistance of business owners and managers and is readily available online.

To view a copy of the full report and recommendations, go to http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1541-4337.12130/abstract

For more information on the Global Food Traceability Center, please visit http://www.ift.org/gftc.aspx

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