Marketing Professors Study Customer Perceptions of Local, Sustainably Farmed Fish

With oceans, rivers, and lakes rapidly being depleted of fish as a result of over fishing, and consumers’ preference for fresh source-to-table fish and concern for climate and natural resources, is there a way to solve this problem and bring joy to the palate? Associate Professors of Marketing, Jeff Meyer and Fei Weisstein along with other researchers at BGSU say – Aquaponics.

Aquaponics, a system that uses fish and prawns to help grow plants, shows promise for producing food locally and sustainably. Compared to traditional farming, aquaponics uses fewer chemicals, less water, less energy, and can be used year-round. Thus, aquaponics has the potential to benefit farmers, consumers, and the environment. But for this to work, people have to be willing to buy food grown in this new way. Several factors affect what people buy, such as taste, price, availability, health concerns, and concern for the environment.

Drs. Weisstein and Meyer, along with faculty members from the departments of Public and Allied Health and Biological Sciences are collaborating on aquaponics research projects funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce NOAA Sea Grant Program and U.S. Department of Agriculture CIG Federal Grant Program. The objective of the research is to promote the economic growth of aquaponic food production. Drs. Weisstein and Meyer contribute marketing and business development expertise to the projects. Weisstein holds a Ph.D. in marketing from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on pricing and marketing strategy, sustainable and social marketing, and digital and social media marketing. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in marketing from Texas A&M University. His research interests include services marketing, pricing, technology, and sustainability.

Photo of Jeff Meyer and Fei Weisstein in a greenhouse with aquaponics fish tanks growing tomatoes on campus at BGSU
Drs. Jeff Meyer and Fei Weisstein, marketing professors, receive grants for sustainable aquaponics research

As part of their grant projects, Drs. Weisstein and Meyer are studying how messaging can change how people think about the quality, taste, and price of aquaponic fish. In a blind taste test, people could not tell the difference between fish that was caught in the wild, raised on a farm, or grown in an aquaponic system. They did find, though, that messaging about the farming method is important. Drs. Weisstein and Meyer say “Consumers’ attitudes shifted after learning how the three farming practices impacted the environment. When consumers were unfamiliar with aquaponic fish, they believed it was inferior to both traditional farm-raised fish and wild-caught fish. But after people learned about the environmental benefits of aquaponics, they thought the fish were better tasting and healthier, and were more likely to buy aquaponic fish than wild-caught or farm-raised fish.”

What is next? In the next phase of the projects, Drs. Weisstein and Meyer will investigate the quality and consumer perceptions of tomatoes grown in an aquaponic system. They are excited about these projects and research opportunities that take the aquaponic system out of the BGSU lab. “The projects allow us to study not only the technical aspect of aquaponics, but also how consumers perceive aquaponics and their purchase decision-making processes, which is crucial from a business perspective,” said Dr. Weisstein. Their research will help communities in recognizing aquaponics as a sustainable way to grow food that is both environmentally and economically viable and beneficial to society.

Updated: 09/29/2022 04:50PM