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Retail buyers mull over eco-labeled seafood in Japan

December 26, 2007

Seafood buyers at large-scale retailers are taking wait-and-see attitudes towards eco-labeled seafood products, although showing interest, a recent survey by Suisan Times found.

In the questionnaire-based survey of Japan`s major 17 retailers, such as Aeon, Uny and Life corporation, five said they`re "very interested" in selling eco-labeled products, while the rest answered they were "somewhat interested."

All the buyers were aware of the MSC, while 12 out of 17 knew MEL Japan. Considering the Japanese eco certifier was just officially established in December, visibility with buyers is relatively high.

Three retailers answered they were selling the MSC certified eco-label products and another one said it's under active consideration. Four said they were considering carrying the MSC products, while 47% said they would start dealing with the MSC depending on rival companies` outcomes and trends, testing the water if consumption propensity really becomes assured.

In a section where respondents were asked what key factors decided considering carrying the MSC products at their outlets, many said it is either "Judged by independent discretion" or "Judged by precedents." Only one said "Customers demand" influenced, representing that consumers` recognition of the MSC is still low in Japan.

Most buyers didn`t show positive attitudes towards newly established Japan`s eco-label on the ground that it has not certified any fisheries and products. Only 13% said they would pursue the possibilities of selling the MEL Japan products at this point.

A buyer at one of the largest retailers said, "We will decline to comment on the MEL due to the lack of information," and this comment seems to represent the normal action among most decision makers. This aspect could be changed when the MEL certified eco-label products once go into circulation.

It is interesting to note that many buyers remain silent onlookers, though keeping an eye on the future developments. If you look at the situation from a different angle, by creating a catalyst, it could trigger a big shift because the Japanese have tendency to be greatly affected by trends.

A buyer at a supermarket chain based in Tokyo said, "We are gathering information on the MSC and go through its future penetration to other outlets in a comprehensive manner."

Many respondents think eco-standard should be simple and have fear that multiple programs will cause customers confusion.

Osaka based retailer, listed on both the Tokyo and the Osaka stock exchange, said "Eco-labeled seafood will never take root among consumers if standard is not easily understandable".

Finally, we will refer some comments on eco-labeled products from the respondents.

"It is not a big deal whether or not to put eco-labels because resource marine conservation should be done on a routine basis."

"The British way of thinking is not necessarily accepted in Japan. To make the MSC pervasive, the program needs attunement. It should be well blended with British way of values and Japanese traditions."

"Adoption of eco-labeled seafood products is necessary not only to preserve the resources, but also to rejuvenate the industry."

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