Socio-economics of Fish Consumption in the United Kingdom1

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Socio-economics of Fish Consumption in the United Kingdom1

Abdulai Fofana

Scottish Agricultural College

Management Division

 +44 1224 711085 

This paper provides an overview of the main economic, social and demographic factors of fish consumption trends in the UK. Traditional economic determinants of food consumption and demographic changes in relation to fish consumption are discussed alongside industry specific factors such as; eating habits; food safety concerns; health and nutritive value of fish; consumer attitude and taste of fish. The demographic changes include the population size and composition; household composition; age distribution and regional comparison.

UK per capita consumption of fish is the lowest in Western Europe though it has a relatively large market. In the 1980s per capita consumption of seafood averaged 7.5 kilogram per annum and peaked to a record high of just over 8 kilogram per annum in 1996. The population in UK is growing very slowly, less than one percent between 1996 and the estimated population in 2000. Population-driven growth in the consumption of fish and fish products will not be significant in the foreseeable future. Without general increases in the population, it becomes even more important for fish processors and marketers to understand and exploit demographic trends within their target markets. Key among these trends are the relative aging of the population, reduction in the average household size, and the increasing female participation in the workforce.


The last three decades have seen marked changes in the pattern of food consumption and individual eating habits in the United Kingdom (UK). The factors most responsible for the changes are the changing lifestyle of the UK consumer, along with economic, social and demographic changes. . The increased participation of women in the labour force; increased concerns on food safety; environmental aspects of production; an aging UK population; reduced size of households and declining real disposable income have all served to change the types of products that are demanded. The Seafish Industry Authority (SFIA) (1998) reports that “convenience” and “diversity” have become the latest bywords for much of current consumer's buying behavior. Mintel and Key Note have even described the modern consumer’s eating behavior as ”grazing”. This term reflects the modern consumers busier lifestyle, with little or no time available for home meal preparation, they prefer ready-made meals and snacks, which can be eaten ‘on the go’.

Per capita consumption of fish in the UK is the lowest in Western Europe although it has a relatively large market. In the 1980s, per capita consumption of fish averaged 7.5 kilogram per annum (National Food Survey). After several years of fluctuations, per capita consumption peaked to a record high of just over 8 kilogram per annum in 1996. This may be due to the shift away from meat because of the BSE crisis and the wider choice of fish and fish products available from multiple grocers.

The purpose of this paper is two-fold. To identify, describe and analyse the major economic, social and demographic factors that have influenced fish consumption patterns over the last 20 years. To identify possible areas for further research. In the UK, numerous food-related data series have been collated by both private and public sources. Survey methodologies and data compilation techniques used by these institutions may differ and most of the analyses are based on cross-sectional data derived from surveys for various years. Therefore, the data may not be perfectly suitable for year-on-year comparisons thus; the interpretation of the data must be viewed with caution.

Figure 1

Source: NFS

The paper begins by giving a brief description of the structure of the fishing industry in the UK in Section 1. Some traditional economic factors determining fish consumption are discussed in Section 2. Demographic changes and consumer attitudes toward fish and some main influences fish consumption are discussed in section 3 and 4 respectively. The fifth section compares fish consumption in the UK on a regional basis. The last section provides an overview of the major issues.

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