Nofima: Consumers distrust use of insects and microalgae in salmon feed

Food research institute Nofima has explained that consumers find the thought of using insects and microalgae in salmon feed hard to digest. According to the institute, most people do not even know that wild salmon eat insects in the rivers.

Nofima: Consumers distrust use of insects and microalgae in salmon feedNofima, a leading food research institute that conducts research and development for the aquaculture industry, the fishing industry and the food industry, examined consumers’ beliefs and thoughts regarding salmon. Katerina Kousoulaki, a senior scientist at Nofima, is currently leading a project aimed at creating sustainable salmon feed from algae and insect meal. In the future, the salmon industry will require a greater diversity in sustainable raw materials which are beneficial to both salmon and the environment than current options, and microalgae and insects are promising raw materials. This is why Kousoulaki has been listening in on focus groups where French consumers of salmon have discussed their beliefs and thoughts.

Katerina Kousoulaki

“The respondents loved eating salmon, but did not know much about the fish,” says Kousoulaki. “My impression is that we need to educate the consumers.”

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 states.

According to Kousoulaki, when the existing knowledge is lacking, it makes it even more challenging to talk about feed 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,” Katerina Kousoulaki explains. “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.”

François Saulais
Photo: Reidun Kraugerud, Nofima

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,” concludes Saulais.

He is the international coordinator for the seafood division, responsible for studying and helping to develop the aquaculture segment and to propose value chains that ensure deliveries of high-quality and more sustainable fish for all the countries in which Auchan operates. In is work, he has seen how important it is to develop new sustainable feeds for both salmon and other species. “When we look at the needs in aquaculture industry ‘s projected increases in production demands over the next 20–30 years, we see that current feed supply levels are insufficient. That is why Nofima is taking the initiative to find alternatives,” he adds.

Market expert Sandra Bretagne is a leading partner in the consulting company Insight quest, which conducted the consumer survey using focus groups on behalf of Nofima and Auchan. She is confident that it is possible for consumers to 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,” says 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.”