Voting jump-starts seafood conversations

The FRDC’s first People’s Choice Fish and Chips Awards provide lessons for next year while raising the profile of seafood in Australia

The Australian Fish and Chips Awards logo

The sheer scale of the response and the enthusiasm with which Australians have embraced the fish and chips awards has amazed us all at the FRDC.

We created new awards this year – both a people’s choice category and a judged category selected from the people’s choice finalists – to engage the Australian public in a conversation about seafood, integrating these with an existing industry-judged award.

There is no doubt that the conversation has been well and truly started.

Procurement of local catch, fish species, labelling requirements, customers’ batter preferences and even the perfect cut of chips have all been hot topics of debate.

Media interest helped raise the awards’ profile, along with a healthy dash of parochial competition, typified by the enthusiasm of Senator Anne Ruston, the Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. She wholeheartedly threw her weight behind the awards, particularly in support of her home state, South Australia.

Over the seven months of the state and territory, and then national awards, judges travelled more than 22,000 kilometres to sample fish and chips across the entire country.

We received more than 95,000 consumer votes for almost 1000 stores. The awards generated more than 200 media stories, 800,000 social media impressions and led to free publicity for many fish and chips stores in their local media.

As the piece penned by our judge under the pseudonym John Dory demonstrates, the national judges were astounded by the quality of much of what they sampled. Australian fish and chips have a lot to offer and celebrate.

There were some unexpected outcomes and definite lessons from our first foray into the food awards territory.

Combining the people’s choice awards with a judged category created some confusion about judging and voting deadlines that will need to be resolved.

The competition was also far more intense in some quarters than we anticipated. Questions arose about whether customer giveaways should have been allowed and whether this constitutes buying votes. The buying of votes was definitely not encouraged; votes identified as invalid were removed from the tally.

Records were kept of every vote to ensure sound record-keeping and vote-checking. The way voting is conducted will be reviewed.

The goal was to raise the profile of seafood in general and showcase why Australian seafood and potatoes are among the best in the world.

Realistically, more than 70 per cent of seafood consumed in Australia is imported. Not every fish and chips shop is in a position to sell only fresh, local product. For the awards, the issue is about identifying where seafood comes from and allowing customers to choose for themselves.

We are seeking feedback from participating fish and chips shops about the awards – whether they have contributed to an increase in business and what can be improved.

Despite the challenges, we believe the awards have positively raised the profile of seafood in Australia and we look forward to an even greater level of participation when the awards next run. The FRDC will announce details of the next awards in early 2018.

FRDC Research Code: 2016-136

More information

Fish and Chip Awards

Peter Horvat, peter.horvat@frdc.com.au