In order thoroughly to examine costs and benefits of schemes aimed at differentiating products and processes on the basis of quality criteria, it is important to define the concept of "quality". Following the definition developed by Grunert and used by Burrell at al. in their report to the EC,7 there are two different approaches to food quality. The holistic approach refers to quality as inclusive of all the desirable characteristics that a product is perceived to have. On the contrary, the excellence approach defines quality only by examining specific characteristics that make a product of better quality or to follow higher standards.
It is also possible to divide food quality into the following categories:
In the examination of costs and benefits of different certification schemes, the user's perception of quality plays a key role, especially concerning willingness-to-pay for different quality attributes.
Users assess quality by looking at the intrinsic and extrinsic nature of the attributes or based on the knowledge that they have of different attributes. Intrinsic attributes are characteristics directly linked to the product and which cannot be changed (such as shape, taste, production system used, etc.). Extrinsic attributes are not directly linked to the product and can be modified externally, for example price, brand, packing etc. In relation to the knowledge that users have of quality attributes the following distinctions can be made:
In the context of these descriptions, throughout this review the term "quality" will be used to describe any attribute of a product or process including food safety, taste, price or addressing environmental or social sustainability.
Aquaculture certification schemes most often claim improvements in the sustainability of aquaculture production in terms of environmental, social or economic sustainability. These concepts influence most of the quality attributes described above. Sustainability however can be a rather vague concept and its definition requires further discussion.
7 EC DG JRC/IPTS. 2005. Food supply chain dynamics and quality certification final report. http://foodqualityschemes.jrc.es/en/documents/Finalreport_000.pdf