Julie Waites, the new executive director for the United Kingdom’s Frozen at Sea Fillets Association (FASFA), is on a mission to change consumer perception of frozen fish and seafood and enhance the reputation of the frozen-at-sea sector as whole.

Last year, market research company IGD found 38 percent of the British public still believe that only “cheap and rubbish fish” goes into frozen products.

In addition, half the population still believe freezing destroys nutrients and health benefits, said Waites.

"[That] is totally the opposite of what frozen at sea does," Waites told IntraFish. "It locks in the nutrients as the time between the fish being caught and frozen is less than four hours.”

The misperception, though, shows that "there is still a lot of work to be done on increasing the reputation, not just on a B2B level but on a B2C level as well,” Waites added.

FAFSA, now 21 years old, represents international fishing companies, trawlers and distributors of frozen-at-sea filleted cod and haddock sourced from Norway, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Russia, Greenland and the UK.

The overwhelming volume of the products the group's members produce -- over 90 percent -- head for the massive UK fish and chips sector.

Waites said FAFSA group can serve both the producers and buyers far better by providing simple ways to communicate accurate information about frozen whitefish products.

A good portion of that work will be done online, and Waites plans on using social media tools and working with existing online platforms to highlight the quality of frozen-at-sea fish and the suppliers of the products,” Waites said.

FASFA will work with its members and partner organizations such as the National Federation of Fish Fryers, the Norwegian Seafood Council, Seafood from Iceland and Seafish, among others.

“I think the industry is getting better at collaborating,” she said. “Before we went into our little silos, working on own, now we realize, actually, the only way to do it is for all partner organizations to work together."

Julie Waites, executive director of FASFA. Market research company IGD did some work last year that highlighted that 38 percent of the British public still believe that only “cheap and rubbish fish” goes into frozen products. Photo: LinkedIn

Helping explain complex ideas

Though most fish and chip shop owners are aware of the quality of frozen-at-sea products, some struggle to explain or promote it to the end consumer, which is where FASFA can help, Waites said.

In some cases, Waites said, store owners -- especially chip shops on the UK coast -- are embarrassed to tell customers the fish they are serving is previously frozen and would rather be able to tell them their fish was landed fresh nearby.

“People still believe fresh is the best, and still don’t know how to explain to consumers that FAS is a high-quality sustainable product," Waites said.

"So we plan on helping them explain to that their customers.”

UK's phenomenal fish & chips sector
  • There are currently some 10,500 fish and chip shops in the United Kingdom. That dramatically outnumbers fast-food outlets, including McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
  • British consumers eat some 382 million meals from fish and chip shops every year, including 167 million of just fish and chips.
  • Annual spend on fish and chips in the United Kingdom is in the region of £1.2 billion ($1.4 billion)
  • 80 percent of people visit fish and chip shops at least once a year, and 22 percent visit fish and chips shops every week

Source: National Federation of Fish Fryers

While FASFA’s members are large companies at the forefront of the industry -- members include Norebo, UK Fisheries, Leinebris, Smales and JFK, among others -- it is important to translate the right information down the supply chain to the end consumer, Waites said.

And this is equally important when addressing big issues such as climate change, net zero emissions, carbon impact and waste.

As a "climate smart food," seafood already has an edge, Waites noted.

Unprecedented times

Waites is the first woman to be appointed executive director at FASFA, and is “really passionate” about inspiring and encouraging more women to either come to or stay in the seafood industry, something else that will also be a priority.

“It is still very much a male dominated industry, which I’ve never really had an issue with -- everyone is great -- but more women need inspiring to come into this industry where there are so many different options for them to make it their career,” she said.

Waites has more than 25 years of experience in the wider food and commercial seafood sector and joined FASFA from her previous role as regional manager in England at UK trade group Seafish.

She joins FASFA at an interesting time, with the wide-ranging issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit, impacting the sector. Still, Waites pointed to the resilience the fish and chip shop sector has shown over the past 18 months.

While bumpy in the beginning, the sector soon adapted to the new situation with initiatives such as click and collect, online ordering, and home delivery.

“The sector is so resilient, so proactive, that it outperformed all the other channels in foodservice, and business was booming,” said Waites.

“They got through it, and a lot of them said they will keep doing what they are doing where they can.”

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