Mel Groundsell is the corporate relations director for Seafish UK, a non-departmental public body set up to improve efficiency and raise standards across the seafood industry. She talks to Lisa Jenkins about her 30 years in corporate communications and the strides her and her team have made in promoting Seafish UK to consumers.
The seafood sector was a new arena for you when you started at Seafish UK two years ago. Has it been a steep learning curve?
Practically vertical! Everyone has been so helpful and friendly and the industry is full of experts willing to share their knowledge. Generally, people in the seafood industry have been in it a long time, so there's a lot of passion.
What was your brief?
To look after the division of marketing communications and regulations and to bring the industry, technically-trained scientists and the communications team together to work with government and move them closer to the industry and vice versa.
The goal was to bring three sectors closer: domestic and export, supply chain and consumer, and importers and processors. Seafish UK is paid a levy of £8m per annum, which we are expected to spend in a way that benefits the sector's interests. So we identified some common ground for a stronger voice: to promote consumption, to enhance the reputation of the industry, and to assist with informed decision-making.
How are you monitored by the industry you work for?
Seafish UK is judged with some scrutiny by the industry and we report back annually in a delivery report and regularly with our sector panels. In a broader sense, we run stakeholder surveys [last completed in April 2016]. We achieved a 65% satisfaction score in 2015, so that's good, I think.
What have you learned about the UK seafish industry?
That it's complex, it can be political and it's a treasured industry with the catching communities steeped in the history of it. That fish is the best superfood with phenomenal benefits and that, extraordinarily, the UK imports 80% of what we eat and exports 80% of what we catch. Partly this is due to supply, as consumers want to eat a broad range of species, but it's not all down to that.
Do you think consumers are eating more fish?
Yes, overall. There was a decline, but the trajectory is looking healthy. The recession has less of a grip and we are eating out more, people are more experimental and ready to try new things. The push against carbohydrates and sugar is a helpful message, too.
What can foodservice businesses do to promote fish on the menu?
Simply, it starts with putting more fish on menus and experimenting with a greater variety of species. It's about telling the story of the fish on your menu: the provenance, health benefits, sustainability and so on.
Operators should take advantage of Seafish UK as we have a wealth of data and promotional material available to support sea- fish sales in restaurants, and this year there is also a foodservice Seafood Week on 7-14 October to help everyone sell more seafood. In 2015 a similar campaign in the retail sector saw double digit growth.
For more information on Seafish UK and its support materials, visit www.seafish.org
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