What do Americans think about wild Alaska pollock? They are certainly thinking better of it and more often about it, according to Ketchum Analytics Managing Director Mary Elizabeth Germain.
Germain told attendees at the Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers (GAPP) annual meeting held in Seattle Oct. 17 there has been "a continued upward trend of total familiarity with wild Alaska pollock" since her firm started surveying consumers in 2019.
For the past four years, the firm has been helping GAPP make "wild Alaska pollock" a better-known phrase among American consumers. While Alaska pollock is a staple in fish sticks and fast-food sandwiches such as McDonald's Filet-O-Fish, most Americans have been clueless what the fish was called or where it was caught.
Findings from a fourth online survey of 1,000 adults showed "continued upward trend of total familiarity with wild Alaska pollock," Germain said.
That number has jumped from 52 percent in 2019 to 56 percent of survey respondents in 2022, "the highest familiarity of the fish" since the study was started.
"The more consumers are familiar with wild Alaska pollock and are educated about all of its unique attributes, the more they really love this fish and will actively seek it out," Germain said.
Catching up to haddock
Ketchum's results showed Alaska pollock still has a ways to go, but is closing the gap with competitors when it comes to factors such as evoking a "positive opinion" of the fish and an intention to eat it in the next 30 days.
Consumer opinion of Alaska pollock was compared to haddock, cod and tilapia, with 2022 survey results showing pollock is now matching haddock in "total familiarity" at 56 percent but still trailing behind cod, which has a 76 percent total familiarity. It is also trailing significantly behind tilapia, which has 78 percent total familiarity.
When it came to having a "positive opinion" of the fish, Alaska pollock ranked at 48 percent, and trailed closely behind haddock and tilapia, which were both around 50 percent in this category. The study participants still held the most positive opinion of cod at 57 percent.
Alaska pollock, however, achieved a higher growth rate compared to 2021 over cod when it came to having simply a "good opinion" among the study participants. It jumped two percentage points from 2021 to 81 percent. Cod's perception remained higher overall for the "good opinion" category at 85 percent, but only jumped 1 percentage point from the previous year.
Tilapia, meanwhile, saw the largest growth between 2021 and this year when it came to consumers having a good opinion of the fish, jumping 3 percentage points to 76 percent.
'Likelihood to eat' Alaska pollock sees major uptick
Alaska pollock ranked No. 1 when it came to a consumer's likelihood to eat it in the coming month, jumping 7 percentage points from 2021 in this category to 31 percent.
This year's results showed consumers are learning more than ever about Alaska pollock from friends and family, with that indicator jumping 11 percentage points from last year to 35 percent. Grocery stores and cooking shows were other places where consumers said they were learning about the product.
The likelihood to eat Alaska pollock from the grocery store's frozen aisle jumped significantly for consumers this year compared to the previous year, as well as their likelihood of eating pollock at sit-down and fast food restaurants.
Alaska pollock also seems to be making gains, with inflation remaining a top concern for consumers with 35 percent of the survey respondents "buying less expensive fish at the grocery store or market" and 28 percent stating they're "buying fish from the frozen aisle instead of the fish counter," according to Ketchum.
Sustainability story influencing purchasing habits
The importance of sustainability in general is growing among fish eaters. According to the study, it's up 69 percent this year from 61 percent in 2021.
The No. 1 attribute the study participants said mattered to them when it comes to sustainability is that the fish is "safe for the ocean," with that mattering to 76 percent of the consumers surveyed. That was followed by "ensuring supply for future generations" and fisheries management, which jumped to being important for 70 percent of the survey respondents this year.
Lauren Hasse, director of analytics for Ketchum, noted sustainability has been a key focus of the firm when it comes to marketing Alaska pollock.
"We infuse sustainability into our messaging with influencers, even working with sustainability-focused influencers to get that sustainability message out there," she said.
She also pointed to GAPP's comprehensive life cycle assessment (LCA) of the Alaska pollock industry completed last year, which it says shows Alaska pollock is one of the most climate-friendly proteins available.
This year Ketchum introduced a new category to the respondents on whether fish being wild caught mattered, an attribute 69 percent of respondents said was important for sustainability, and an important focus in GAPP branding.