University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) Business School


The Challenge

At around 70% of retail sales, the volume of imported seafood far outweighs that of domestic Australian product. Barramundi farmers and prawn farmers and fishermen needed effective strategies to help consumers differentiate between local and imported products, and to increase their competitiveness, sales and profitability.

Research Impact Summary

  • Research outcomes allowed the seafood producers to make evidence-based decisions on marketing investment and value-chain strategies most likely to improve sales and profits
  • Producer behaviour changed to better meet consumer expectations.
  • The research identified niche market opportunities
  • Variable quality was found to be the most significant constraint to increased sales of barramundi
  • The Australian Council of Prawn Fisheries reported a 20% increase in price and attributed this largely to the research-based marketing campaign.

Casting the Net to Capture More Consumers

Australian prawn and barramundi producers operate on relatively small margins. So before deciding how to spend their limited sales and marketing dollars, they sought a sound strategy. 

USC’s Professor Meredith Lawley, together with representatives of the Australian Seafood Cooperative Research Centre and others, created and implemented a program designed to:

  • Help prawn and barramundi producers better understand consumer expectations
  • Determine the most effective tools to increase market share
  • Build a strong evidence base to guide decisions about future marketing campaigns
  • Help consumers differentiate between local and imported seafood products.

Lawley and her collaborators devised two consumer research campaigns, one related to prawns and the other to barramundi. Seafood in Australia is largely retailed through major supermarket chains and to a lesser extent speciality seafood outlets. But the supermarkets do not release per-item sales information and seafood producers were also reluctant to provide price or volume data. Consequently, the researchers formulated a ‘value proxy’ marketing strategy that would be measured by intensive surveys to determine its effectiveness.

Promoting Prawns

In a two-phase campaign titled ‘Love Australian Prawns,’ devised to determine the most effective tools for increasing market share, a range of promotional materials and recipe cards were displayed at 800 supermarkets and 374 specialty seafood retailers. Following phase one, promotional materials were redesigned based on consumer, retailer and producer feedback, and then re-issued.

Each phase of the campaign was evaluated using results from online and telephone surveys of consumers, retailers and producers. Focus groups and workshops were also convened to measure impact. The surveys showed that over 20% of consumers and close to 100% of industry respondents were aware of the campaign. 59% of industry respondents considered it to be effective. Over half of the consumers who remembered the promotional items made a purchase and 50% of retailers said their prawn sales had increased. Finally, 94% of retailers felt the strategy had increased consumer awareness.

Above all, the research offered better insights into which aspects of the marketing campaign affected consumer preferences and hence purchasing behaviour

Barramundi on a Boom

Between 2004 and 2009 farmed barramundi production increased by 300% to 6000 tonnes per year while average farm gate prices fell, raising concerns about long-term profitability. In response, the Australian Seafood Cooperative Research Centre commissioned Lawley to develop a repositioning strategy.

Researchers used detailed surveys supplemented by interviews with chefs, consumers and members of the Australian Barramundi Farmers Association to gauge consumer reactions to branding options, sustainability markers and point-of-sale promotional materials. They also wanted to know how the campaign affected the farmers’ sales and profitability, relationships with customers and wholesalers, and business development.

Once compiled and analysed, the information helped both end-users and researchers understand how and where the impacts of the campaign were felt and how to modify the campaign for even greater impact.

Ways to Improve the Consumer Catch 

The research uncovered several important issues:

  • Producers had limited understanding about how consumers used the perception of quality in their decision to purchase barramundi
  • The ‘green tick’ indicating a sustainable product had little influence on consumer behaviour
  • Consumer recognition of barramundi as Australian was seen as a quality surrogateChefs’ menu decisions were based on customer demand and not their personal preferences
  • Comparative sales data and surveys of consumers and retailers showed that recipe cards were the most useful marketing tool.

A key finding was that repositioning was not a fundamental requirement because consumers were already very positive about Australian branding but did not always identify the farmed barramundi as an Australian product.

Fish stall with barramundi fish fillets in a market in Melbourne Victoria Australia

Direct Information Flow

The research helped Barramundi producers to understand consumers’ desire for consistent quality better. It led to the  Australian Barramundi Farmers Association creating a national quality task force to address quality consistency. The association also endorsed the need for a national marketing strategy.

Before the research, prawn and barramundi producers received much of their information about consumers’ perceptions through middlemen like wholesalers. The direct insights provided by the research gave them the confidence to make marketing and product changes with positive consequences for the entire value chain.

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