How fresh is the fish?

Consumers think fresh fish in the seafood counter is no more than two or three days old. However, it is seldom just caught. Customers will soon be able to demand to know how old the fish is, and this can create a challenge for the Norwegian fishing industry.

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Portrettbilde av Bjørg Helen Nøstvold

The new regulations take effect on January 1 next year. From that date, all fish must be marked with the date of catch or slaughter.

In this way, the customers will know exactly how old the fish is when they are standing at the seafood counter.

Nofima Marked was commissioned by the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs to study consumer expectations about fresh fish.

"Our study shows that people think the fish in the seafood counter is much fresher than it actually is. How will the customer react when they discover that the fish is older than he or she thought? Will they feel tricked or buy meat for dinner instead," asks Scientist Bjørg H. Nøstvold at Nofima Marked.

Slightly surprisingly, there is greater tolerance in Tromsø than in Oslo. In Tromsø, the cut off was three days, but people in Oslo believe fish is only fresh up to two days after catching.

Customers have different expectations of what fresh is. The majority believe the fish should be untreated and not old. Others believe that fish is fresh unless frozen, which also includes lightly salted or smoked fish.

There are also those who believe that frozen fish can be fresh – as long as it was fresh when it was frozen.

The study also shows that seafood shops and seafood counters at larger chains enjoy greater consumer confidence, while seafood counters at other supermarkets struggle more.

Temperature

One area which few raised was the temperature at which the fish is stored. Just three people mentioned temperature as an important factor for quality.

"No one thinks about whether it’s too warm in the fridge for optimal storage of fish or that fish can be damaged by being kept for an hour in a hot car en route home," says Nøstvold. "There is a major requirement to increase people’s knowledge about temperature and storing fish."

Instructive or misleading

During the spring, Nofima carried out blind tests in several locations in Norway to find out how old fish consumers would accept and consume. The results will be presented at a later date. The scientists have also carried out fresh customer surveys in supermarkets.

"The consumers have an unrealistic picture of the actual age of fresh fish," says Nøstvold. "There is also a big hole in the knowledge about shelf life. As such, the new regulations can have the opposite affect than intended and that the information will be misleading rather than instructive. There is a major requirement for information and knowledge."

Consumer and marketing research  

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