A college education

I wanted to know what a young college student thinks of seafood, so I asked one.

I ended this year's Boston seafood show with a dinner at Island Creek Oyster Bar.

My guest was Irvin Zhang. He is not in the seafood industry, but he has a valuable perspective on seafood.

Irvin is a 18-year-old freshman at Northeastern University in Boston. He and my son, Nick, are friends.

As we ate I began asking Irvin questions about what he thought of seafood and his seafood consumption habits.

How often do you eat seafood? Once a month.

Did you eat seafood growing up? Yes, about twice a week.

What comes to mind when I say farmed salmon? Nothing.

How about when I say shrimp? Delicious, one of my favorite seafoods.

What’s your favorite protein? Chicken.

Have you heard of sustainable seafood? No.

Do you like sushi? Yes. A lot. Sushi is the most approachable seafood. There is no socio-economic status associated with it. It breaks barriers. It’s like a hamburger, whereas as a steak is more high-end.

Do you know the government recommendation for how many times a week you should eat seafood? No.

How many times would you guess it is? Three.

How important are seafood’s health benefits when you make a food purchasing decision? A five out of 10.

Do you ever crave seafood? No.

What do you think of supermarket seafood departments? Daunting.

There is plenty to consider in Irvin’s answers.

What jumped out at me is his view of sushi as uncomplicated, affordable and accessible. My sense is Irvin will be a life-long sushi consumer, but his embracing of the wider world of seafood seems less certain.

Also interesting is that he has no impression of farmed salmon and is likely unaware that the salmon he eats when enjoying sushi is, in most cases, farmed salmon.

Nobody knows who the hell you are

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On one hand this is great because he hasn’t absorbed the multitude of negative messages that have hung over farmed salmon in the past and still do to a lesser extent today.

On the other hand, he is not knowingly building a preference for farmed salmon, which may or may not be a concern to farmed salmon suppliers looking to build branding around the fish and differentiate it in the market.

And all of the health attributes of seafood that we talk about all of the time don’t seem to be reaching Irvin. Granted he is young and healthy and not at a point where he needs to watch what he eats.

Still, his answers made me think that focusing on seafood’s health attributes, while that might resonate with an old fart such as me, it might be wasted on younger consumers who are buying food as food and not buying food as medicine.

Look, I understand the limits of this research, but I think Irvin represents the attitudes and behaviors of a lot of consumers his age – and these are the seafood industry’s consumers of tomorrow.

Overall, I found a lot of positives in what I heard from Irvin, but there is no doubt that there is plenty of work to be done if we want to change his favorite protein from chicken to seafood.

(P.S. Thank you, Irvin, and I’m glad you tried the oysters.)

(P.S.S. I don’t think Irvin is going to become an oyster lover any time soon.)

Comments: john.fiorillo@intrafish.com

Twitter: @john_fiorillo

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