Few of the supermarkets that I shop at in Boston display adequate information about where their seafood products are from and how they are caught or raised. They don’t sell very many seafood products that I consider sustainable, and sometimes I have to search quite a while to find them. While things are slowly improving, I’m still a frustrated shopper.
So when I attended the “Retailers’ Guide to Sustainable Seafood” session at the International Boston Seafood Show 2012, I was impressed by what some of the major supermarket chains have been doing to implement robust seafood sustainability programs. The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) stated that 90 percent of the major retailers that belong to their Sustainable Seafood Working Group have implemented seafood sustainability policies and 70 percent report that they are engaging with their suppliers.
Greenpeace publishes a seafood sustainability scorecard evaluating the sustainability efforts of major US retail chains and has led a consumer campaign that has pressured some companies to do the right thing, but this primarily engages activists. Although individual consumers do ask for sustainable seafood, FMI’s Senior Director of Sustainability & Industry Relations, Jeanne von Zastrow, stated that the majority of consumers are not leading the demand for sustainability.
Nadine Bartholomew, a consultant with the Good Foodie, described the efforts that several supermarket chains that are part of the FMI Sustainable Seafood Committee have engaged in, such as developing a sustainable seafood policy, meeting with suppliers and working with them to change practices, partnering with NGOs to provide research or help develop and measure their sustainability program, no longer selling “red listed” seafood products, labeling the seafood in stores, training staff, and educating customers.
Tracy Taylor, the Seafood Procurement Manager at Ahold USA, which operates 760 stores in the Northeast, stated that Royal Ahold approached the New England Aquarium back in 2000 to get assistance in improving sustainability and traceability in their stores. They shifted some of their sourcing, and eventually stopped carrying some red listed products. “We have to work with existing suppliers to make incremental improvements,” Taylor stated, “because shoppers [still] want farmed salmon and shrimp.” However, Taylor said, Ahold USA is committed to have 100 percent of their own brand seafood certified by a credible ecolabel by 2015.
Michael Loftus, Director of Meat and Seafood for Raley’s Family of Fine Stores, a privately owned company based in west Sacramento with 128 stores in northern California and Nevada, said that all of their stores are Marine Stewardship Council Chain of Custody Certified, not just their products. He described this as an onerous task that most other stores don’t undertake. “We can’t do 100 percent sustainable seafood yet,” he said, because of the customer demand for some unsustainable products. They do a great deal of internal staff education as well as for their consumers.
The FMI is releasing a free toolkit on May 1, downloadable from fmi.org, which will share the stories and best practices from the Seafood Sustainability Committee members. The NFI hopes that smaller stores will be able to learn from the experiences of the bigger, better funded leaders.
While supermarkets have a long way to go to be completely sustainable, it is clear that consumers need to do their part to create the demand for sustainable seafood. Zastrow pointed out that customers under 30 years old are much more aware of and concerned about sustainable seafood than older customers, so as they mature, so will the demand. Hopefully, knowing that some supermarkets are leading the way will encourage more customers to ask for sustainable seafood.