Heart health and ocean health are the topics of the day in seafood departments, as retailers and nonprofits market the benefits of sustainable seafood consumption
During the past decade, the media has been awash in conflicting reports about seafood. The healthy omega-3 fatty acids in seafood are great for your heart — eat more seafood. The mercury and PCB content in seafood is off the charts — eat less seafood. Recently, concern about depleted fisheries have left many shoppers wondering which items are healthiest for themselves, their families and the environment.
Many retailers are now working to communicate those two messages within their seafood departments — encouraging seafood consumption to maintain heart health, while educating consumers about the health of the oceans at the same time.
Beyond displaying in-store signage and providing information on websites, retailers are stepping up with more interactive efforts in seafood education.
“Our commitment to great food and value is carried through into the seafood departments in all our stores,” Tracy Taylor, senior buyer for seafood at Quincy, Mass.-based Ahold USA, told SN.
Taylor explained that department signage, along with recipes available at the store and online, offer shoppers new, exciting ideas for preparing seafood. Ahold USA-banner stores also promote seafood in store circulars and through in-store brochures, she added.
But Ahold USA has also created a hands-on store tour program for kids called “Be a Store Explorer” at its Stop & Shop and Giant of Landover banners. The seafood portion of the program focuses on both the health benefits of eating fish and the sustainability concerns facing fisheries today.
“In seafood, we teach them about the healthfulness of eating seafood and the importance of protecting the environment so there are plenty of fish for years to come,” Taylor said.
Stop & Shop and Giant of Landover also have a program called Healthy Ideas, which was launched to help customers easily find healthy foods without reading all the labels.
Items that fit the Healthy Ideas criteria are highlighted with shelf tags and Healthy Ideas logos, and many seafood items meet those criteria. The program also provides many seafood recipes.
“We also promote the heart-healthy aspect of seafood periodically in the Consumer Tips portion of our circulars and using in-store radio,” Taylor said.
“Giant of Carlisle recently started printing nutritional information on the labels [for] seafood products they sell out of the service cases.”
PCC Natural Markets also takes the dual messages of health and wellness and sustainable seafood seriously.
“PCC shoppers are very interested in issues relating to seafood quality and health,” said Russ Ruby, director of merchandising for the Seattle, Wash.-based retailer.
“We communicate our standards and promote items that fit within our guidelines on a regular basis. We increase our promotional activity during the ‘fresh season’ when local supply is abundant.”
PCC was the first retailer to become a full partner in the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program, and sells only seafood that meets Seafood Watch guidelines. In fact, the cooperative's location in the Pacific Northwest allows PCC to source its seafood directly from small, local seafood distributors who deliver product to PCC stores six times weekly. In addition, Greenpeace USA ranked PCC as the No. 1 retailer in the United States for sustainable seafood policies and initiatives.
“In-store signage promotes our seafood and primary message: ‘Delicious Seafood. Healthy Oceans,’” Ruby said, adding that copies of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch pocket guide and PCC's proprietary Seafood Guide are available in all stores and are downloadable from the retailer's website.
“We are in the process of generating new labels for seafood that appears on Monterey Bay's new ‘Super Green’ list — items that are a ‘Best Choice’ for sustainability, low in contaminants and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids,” Ruby said.
Recently, organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and Monterey Bay Aquarium have been getting involved in helping retailers develop sustainable seafood programs, promote the health of seafood to consumers and educate consumers about the health of the oceans.
“More and more retailers are partnering with [non-governmental organizations] to provide sustainable seafood. It is a rapidly growing movement,” Bill Fox, vice president and managing director of WWF's fisheries program, told SN.
Kroger, Cincinnati, recently announced a partnership with the WWF to develop a strategy for responsibly sourced wild seafood. In July, WWF developed a similar partnership with Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh.
“WWF's objective is to make conservation changes on the water in the fisheries that supply retailers,” Fox said.
“Working in partnership with a major buyer provides more leverage to make this happen. WWF works with major buyers, such as Kroger, to have a more transformational impact in making this happen.”
Under the agreement, WWF will assist Kroger in assessing current sourcing of the company's top 20 wild-caught seafood species in order to develop a sustainable seafood sourcing strategy. WWF will help Kroger lead the discussion with the company's source fisheries to improve practices across the supply chain and encourage these fisheries to pursue higher sustainability standards in the trade and harvesting of seafood.
“Retailers provide WWF with their seafood source fisheries and WWF rates their source fisheries on a sustainability scale using the standards of the Marine Stewardship Council,” Fox explained.
“For those source fisheries that do not qualify for MSC certification, WWF works out a Fishery Improvement Project needed to get certified and to continue to supply the retailer. As a result of our major buyer relationships, we have completed assessing over 60 fisheries and have over 25 active fishery projects in place worldwide.”
Similarly, Ahold USA stores have a longstanding partnership with the New England Aquarium, which helps the retailer improve the sustainability of its seafood selection.
“We have a training program for our seafood associates that provides them with information about our partnership with the New England Aquarium and why we partnered with them, some of the actions we have taken as a result of our work together, and our sustainable seafood purchasing policy,” Taylor told SN.
“We also have many different in-store efforts, some permanent and some temporary. For example, we have signs in our stores that highlight our partnership with the New England Aquarium.”
Giant of Carlisle has brochures in its stores that not only explain the partnership, but also give customers sustainability information on a few of the species sold. Stop & Shop and Giant of Landover have recipe cards available in many of the stores that give customers an “environmentally friendly option” at the bottom of the recipe to assist them in making sustainable seafood choices.
And Giant of Landover recently participated in the Maryland Seafood Festival where free brochures not only provided information on the retailer's partnership with the New England Aquarium, but also gave attendees advice on ways that they can help sustainability efforts by staying informed and asking questions. And, if they don't see an ocean-friendly choice in the department, ask for it. Giant of Carlisle also regularly participates on a local television station's cooking show, which periodically highlights a seafood item and discusses the company's partnership with the New England Aquarium.
Recently, many retailers have been participating in broader sustainability efforts by discontinuing certain species of fish.
For example, Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., last year established a seafood sourcing policy, and added a sustainability page on its website where customers can go to read the policy or view the company's sustainable seafood product chart. The charts, which are also available at in-store seafood counters, include a list of species Wegmans does not carry because of sustainability concerns, such as Atlantic halibut, bluefin tuna, orange roughy and all species of shark and marlin.
Ahold USA has also discontinued orange roughy, as well as several other species.
“Consumer interest in sustainability and source of food is increasing. We do have a growing number of customers that ask questions about our efforts and have applauded us for some of the steps we have taken,” Taylor said.
“We are committed to sustainable seafood because it's the right thing to do, and we want to ensure that we can provide our customers with the seafood they want for generations to come.”