Consumers need to be educated about feeding salmon with new ingredients

Project finds that consumers can accept salmon being fed more insects and algae but it will take time and focused communication efforts.

Credits: Joe Urrutia/Nofima
June 4, 2024

Consumers find using insects and microalgae in salmon feed hard to digest. Most people do not even know that wild salmon eat insects in the rivers. “The respondents love eating salmon, but did not know much about the fish,” said Katerina Kousoulaki, a senior scientist at Nofima.

She is currently leading the Millennial Salmon Project aimed at creating sustainable salmon feed from algae and insect meal. Kousoulaki has been listening in on focus groups where French consumers of salmon have discussed their beliefs and thoughts. “My impression is that we need to educate the consumers,” said Kousoulaki.

Misconceptions abound

It turns out that consumers know very little about Norwegian salmon. What’s more, they think they “know” several things that are in fact wrong. “Everyone was sure that farmed salmon contains lots of antibiotics – which is not correct. They like to eat salmon, but they don’t know much about how it is produced,” she said.

When the existing knowledge is lacking, it makes it even more challenging to talk about aquafeed with new raw materials. “If you ask people what salmon eat in the wild, many will answer ‘algae’ and ‘shrimp’. However, salmon don’t eat algae, and they don’t eat much shrimp, either. They mainly feed on fish, and upriver they feed on insects,” Kousoulaki explained. “Many of the surveyed consumers had a positive attitude towards using algae in fish feed, but did not think that insects were a natural food for the salmon.”

The need for more feed

François Saulais in the multinational retail group Auchan is tasked with selling Norwegian salmon to French consumers.

“Our customers’ knowledge about the products they buy is not as good as we would like. This does not come as a surprise to us; the only surprise is that more people than we thought believe that fish farmers use antibiotics and growth hormones, a misconception we need to address,” said Saulais.

He is the international coordinator for the seafood division, responsible for studying and helping develop the aquaculture segment and proposing value chains that ensure deliveries of high-quality and more sustainable fish for all the countries in which Auchan operates. He has seen how important it is to develop new sustainable feeds for both salmon and other species.

Skeptical about insects

Market expert Sandra Bretagne is a leading partner in the consulting company Insightquest, which conducted the consumer survey using focus groups on behalf of Nofima and Auchan. She is confident that consumers can accept salmon being fed more insects and algae – but it will take time and focused communication efforts.

“We need to start the communication on a very basic level. Consumers have little knowledge about industrial processes,” said Sandra Bretagne, pointing to an example with a completely different product: shampoo. “Do you know anything about the industrial processes behind the production of shampoo? Very few do. And that’s how it is with the food people eat, too – they tend to have only very superficial knowledge.”