#WhySeaGrant - Would you pay more for local oysters?
Oyster production in the Delaware Bay has decreased by about 90% compared to historic population levels due to disease and overfishing. The loss hurts local businesses, oyster famers and even the environment - oysters provide ecological benefits, including habitat creation and water filtration. That's why researchers are gathering information to help renew commercial oyster farming, starting with consumers.
To understand what will help the oyster industry thrive in Delaware, researchers funded by Delaware Sea Grant (DESG) conducted consumer and tourist preference surveys to determine whether people are willing to pay more for local versus non-local oysters and what characteristics are important in a “good” oyster. The research also included testing on a new brand created to highlight local oyster production.
The work is led by University of Delaware (UD) Professor Kent Messer, Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment and director of the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics, with funding from DESG, the Delaware Economic Development Office, the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Over two years, about 1,400 people participated in research surveys to gauge consumer preferences for local oysters. These surveys were conducted at sites throughout Delaware, including UD’s Ag Day celebration in Newark, 16 Mile Brewery in Georgetown, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal, the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles and Famous Joe’s Tavern in Wilmington.
Overall study results showed that 28% of locals would pay a higher price for oysters branded with a logo showing they came from the Inland Bays, where Delaware Sea Grant efforts have led to the state’s first shellfish aquaculture plots, compared to 13% of tourists who would pay a higher premium. Additionally, the researchers found that consumers were willing to pay 16% more for oysters that are harvested locally.
Working with UD’s Sustainable Coastal Communities Initiative, Delaware Sea Grant marine advisory specialist Ed Lewandowski secured a USDA Rural Business Enterprise grant to develop the logo and its tag line, Inland Bays Oysters – A Southern Delaware Delicacy, to capitalize on the local element of oyster production through an identifiable brand. Lewandowski worked with local stakeholders to determine the best message to promote a local industry. The resulting brand was then tested in Messer’s research.
“It could be a good chance to not only sell Delaware oysters but get a higher price for this product, because now it’s a branded name and it’s something that you can’t get elsewhere,” said Messer. “This has public benefits for getting the oyster industry going, and it could improve water quality in our own state, plus create jobs.”
Consumers valued the smell of the oysters the most, followed by saltiness, meat size and meat color. Frequent oyster consumers preferred aquaculture oysters whereas infrequent and first-time consumers preferred wild-caught oysters. In addition, consumers overall were found to be willing to pay higher prices for oysters that improve local water quality.
The information gleaned through the oyster research will be passed along to sellers and oyster farmers, to better help them understand how to price and market their products.
Page Updated on February 19, 2018