Unlike so many food industry issues, maintaining sustainability of our seafood supply has not been a major concern of consumers, many retailers and industry sources agree. Naturally, consumers want their favorite seafood available now, but they’re not, for the most part, thinking about what’ll be available in the future.
The nitty gritty of everyday retailing is dependent on sustainability of all the seafood species popular with consumers, and that’s why retailers are taking measures to educate their shoppers about how sustainability directly benefits them.
“It’s important that we all have an adequate variety of seafood for generations ahead. You and I can eat sea bass and halibut today, but can our children and grandchildren 10 years from now?” James Breuhl, seafood director at Thibodaux, La.-based Rouses Supermarkets, asked rhetorically. Rouses has had a sustainability program for five years.
Retailers’ overarching reason for supporting sustainable programs for seafood — as it is for supporting sustainability of all perishable items — is ensuring an adequate supply will continue to be available at an affordable retail price.
Environmental concerns have also played a role, and in very recent years, retailers have collaborated with environmentalist groups and activists to protect the environment at the same time they’re protecting the food supply.
But, it’s the consistency of supply throughout the year, consistency of price and food safety aspects that retailers are emphasizing in their efforts to tell consumers how important sustainability programs are to everybody along the supply chain, including end-users.
Retailers are using point-of-sale materials, including fact sheets and brochures, video loops and, more recently, social media to get the whole message across to shoppers.
Ahold uses a multi-platform approach to educate customers. The company started working in partnership with the New England Aquarium to develop its sustainability plan in 2000.
“The divisions have information on their websites and brochures in many of the stores,” said Tracy Taylor, procurement manager for Ahold. “Store associates also have a ‘playbook’ which helps them speak to customers about seafood sustainability and what we are doing. We also continually look for ways to better communicate seafood sustainability to our customers in a way that is easy to understand but does not end up ‘greenwashing.’”
Read more: Seafood Made Simple for the Customer
In an earlier interview, Taylor said it is challenging to give the right amount of information to shoppers without confusing them or causing them to lose interest.
Taylor said the number of Ahold store customers asking about seafood sustainability is still fairly small, “but the expectation is that we are the experts and are doing the right thing.”
In addition to direct customer outreach, retailers said they’re using materials to educate their staff so they can convey correct information to their customers.
As reported by SN this spring, the Food Marketing Institute has published a “Sustainable Seafood Retailer Toolkit,” a free resource guide created by the trade organization’s Sustainable Seafood Committee. This guide gives retailers a boost in their endeavor to educate customers as well as how to proceed with their sustainability programs.