By Chase Brunton
Maine consumers would be willing to pay more for food that is sustainably harvested and some may even be willing to spend extra for seafood harvested in Maine waters, according to a recent survey conducted by researchers in the University of Maine School of Economics.
The issue, according to researchers, is that information about the source and sustainable practices of food production isn’t always available.
In a survey of more than 1,000 Maine citizens this spring, 75 percent of respondents indicated that they were willing to pay more for sustainably harvested food, and 30 percent believed Maine people are willing to pay extra for seafood from Maine.
UMaine Assistant Professor of Economics Caroline Noblet, who collaborates on the research with Associate Professor of Marine Policy Teresa Johnson, says people do care where their food comes from and they might have preferences. But when information is incomplete or unavailable, especially in restaurants, customers’ choices may be impacted.
Maine restaurants owners told the UMaine researchers that tourists — not Maine residents — were far more likely to ask about seafood origins.
The survey is part of a Maine Sea Grant research project called Seafood Links, studying what consumer perceptions of seafood, and learning how Maine businesses source their seafood. The goal of the research is to increase awareness and availability of local and sustainable options.
Also part of the research project, Brianne Suldovsky, a Ph.D. candidate in communication, conducted preliminary interviews with people in supermarkets and at seafood festivals, asking them to write down three or four words they associated with “seafood,” “local seafood” and “sustainable seafood.” Her intent is to evaluate how consumers understand the word “sustainable” in relation to seafood.