by Mary Brewer
“The growth and maturity gained from this experience cannot be described and I encourage all other females within the seafood sector to follow suit.”
With an amazing career experience in the seafood industry behind her at such a young age Meaghan Dodd headed to London on 28 – 30 September 2010 as the recipient of the 2009 Women’s Industry Network Seafood Community (WINSC) Professional Development Scholarship funded through the Fisheries Research & Development Corporation (FRDC).
Meaghan attended the 9th Annual Valued Added Seafood Conference themed “Responding to changing consumer demand to deliver sustainable growth”. With high calibre speakers from across the globe from varying roles throughout the seafood industry, it was an amazing opportunity for Meaghan to not only network with CEOs, managers, researchers and industry consultants, of global companies like Marine Harvest, Tesco, Birds Eye, but also to gain knowledge and innovative ideas to potentially assist the Australian seafood sector.
Although the United Kingdom has a sophisticated pre-prepared meals sector, there were many discussions that were applicable to all seafood sectors internationally. Sustainability has been an increasingly hot topic within the industry, but the question of how the consumer understands this is important, especially with the increasing number of certified sustainable standards (e.g. MSC, Friend of the Sea) that can be adopted with varying logo(s) displayed on their packaging. Consumers stated that they would support such products, but while in-store, their purchasing did not reflect this and most did not understand the logos. These days the consumer expects sustainability to be part of a company’s policy for all products, including packaging. Tesco was the most outstanding supporter of responsibly sourced produce in the UK, with their own standards for suppliers to adhere to.
Another aspect of supporting sustainability is through new product development (NPD) and Birds Eye used innovative commercial advertising that not only captivated the audience but also associated with Generation Y’s preference for quick and easy meals. Other ideas to introduce new products to market were outlined by various companies and in particular Larsden Danish Seafood, where they took the opportunity to launch new species and flavours etc whilst the World Cup in South Africa was on.
Ultimately there is a cost to being green and many of the speakers at the Conference examined the consequences of their marketing and promotional campaigns against the value of sales. Fish is a more sustainable source of protein than beef but this story is not well told to the public. Sustainable sourcing underpins the Birds Eye brand and they have found it worthwhile to push this as a marketing ploy. Many companies had spent considerable money and effort surveying their customers and some of the results were surprising.
One of the results that was not so surprising revealed that younger people prefer quick and easy instant food. They are not interested in paying for ‘sustainability’ as they lack emotional engagement with seafood and passing on the costs of sustainability might not work.
This was reinforced by Jodie Johnston from TESCO who stated that “Good value for money” is the overriding reason for core grocery shopping. Convenience encourages younger consumers and those who need cheap food.
However, it is important to remember that not all seafood consumers are the same, producers should know the consumer and what they need in any category of seafood.
Another such category of consumers is the Pre school & young families who buy seafood for health reasons. Everybody knows they should eat more seafood.However, their enjoyment of it is somewhat dependent on cooking skills and they may buy conveniently frozen battered & breaded fish, or fish fingers or chilled natural seafood to save time and avoid embarrassment. Jon Harman from Seafish believes that consumers are frightened by seafood, and Peter Hajipieris from Birds Eye Iglo agrees saying “fish is still not ‘user friendly’ and there is a fear of handling and cooking it”.
Another category identified is the plus 35 year olds who tend to be more regular consumers; are likely to be more confident cooks; will experiment with a range of chilled and frozen products, yet prefer natural and added value products; and are more likely to purchase from a fish counter or a fish monger thus supporting the seafood industry for a sustainable, profitable future.
Jodie Johnston believes that keeping the range of products simple but effective is a good sales ploy, being careful not to over develop without proper research. Ironically consumers also crave continuous innovation.
Peter Hajipieris says resource utilisation is important; for example frozen fish has less wastage than ‘fresh’ in packaging. While food safety is paramount, freshness, flavour and appearance sell so good packaging is vital.
With many other outstanding presentations across the two days and a Monday workshop that was based on the NGO’s stance on sustainability, this is just a snap shot of Meaghan’s attendance at the Conference. She tells me that from this she has established valuable networks that also assisted her to gain further contacts that allowed her to continue her visits around many UK seafood companies including Marine Harvest – Scotland, Scottish Sea Farms, SeaChill, The Grimsby Institute, Seafish, M&J Seafoods, Daily Fish Supplies and Billingsgate Fish Market. Significantly she supported herself when she visited all of these venues.
Meaghan is very grateful to WINSC. She says “Without the support of WINSC/FRDC Scholarship, I would not have had the opportunity to learn and meet with leaders in my field. The growth and maturity gained from this experience cannot be described and I encourage all other females within the seafood sector to follow suit. We have a lot to gain from other countries and to bring home all the positive processes, products, innovation etc to the Australia industry enables us to grow together.”
Meaghan has found some amazing support from within the industry as well. When she was Operations Manager of the Market Pride Programme at the Sydney Seafood Market, Mark Boulter was Quality Assurance Manager and became her industry supervisor for her Masters thesis. She is very grateful for his support of her growth within the industry and he was always there if she needed to bounce any ideas off someone. Meaghan believes he helped to open her mind as well as providing her with some valuable industry contacts in the UK before leaving on her scholarship.
Whilst Meaghan was in the UK assistance was also provided by Chris Copping, (Sales Director of Villa Organic), William Davies (Fish Technologist at The Grimsby Institute) and Seachill employees Nigel Edwards (Technical Director), Charles Boardman and Marcus Windsor. Nigel and Charles were very generous in opening their homes to Meaghan allowing “the travelling Aussie” to stay with them. Both Marine Harvest and SeaChill also helped pay for accommodation.
Nofima is a Norweign research company both green and blue; ie combining both agri (land) and water knowledge to move both forward. It therefore tries to use research more effectively and collaboratively. They offered Meaghan a PhD role in the company, but having just finishing her masters she graciously declined. Nevertheless, both the President and CEO (Oyvind Fylling-Jensen) and Director Corporate Communications (Stein-Gunnar Bondevik), provided an open invitation to visit and tour Nofima when she next travels to Norway.
After a total of nine weeks travel, networking and potential job offers in the UK, Meaghan has returned knowledge rich with a global understanding of the seafood industry. Just after returning she graduated with a Masters of Applied Science (Living Marine Resources) from the Australian Maritime College. In addition to all her other qualifications, Meaghan is in the process of finishing her Certificate 3 in Financial Services (Accounts Clerical) in between all her other commitments. Somehow she still finds time for some sport, enjoying both indoor and outdoor soccer, as well as dancing the salsa in Sydney.
With her experience at the Sydney Fish Market, Tassal Group Ltd and Marinova P/L as well as many other seafood related positions prior to that, she will indeed be a great catch for the right company.