Like a school of endangered orange roughy, supermarkets in North America have discovered there’s strength in numbers when it comes to swimming towards a goal of seafood sustainability.
This year has seen more retailers than ever — Hannaford, Hy-Vee, BJ’s, Supervalu, United and Meijer, among others — announce their commitment to protecting fisheries as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives.
“We’ve come a long way as an industry in developing a more collaborative spirit with environmental organizations,” said Tracy Taylor, seafood procurement manager for Ahold USA, Carlisle, Pa.
“It’s one of the reasons why retailers feel more comfortable talking publicly about their commitment.”
The growing comfort zone between the food industry and advocacy groups is only one reason why supermarkets are speaking with greater transparency about their sustainability efforts. Retailers are realizing that preserving healthy fish populations is no longer optional. Sustainability — in all its forms — is increasingly becoming part of the value equation.
“We need to help our leadership in the industry understand the real business case for sustainability in terms of efficiency, innovation, increased sales, reduced risk and reduced waste,” said Jeanne von Zastrow, senior director of sustainability at the Food Marketing Institute.
Key to that understanding is the knowledge that there are plenty of third-party certification agents that can help supermarkets create and implement sustainable seafood programs.
“There are more stakeholders in the conservation community today,” said Heather Tausig, associate vice president of conservation at the New England Aquarium, which began working with Ahold to develop its sustainability plan in 2000. “They now have the expertise and the staff to support the commitments that companies want to make.”
Just this past spring, the entire movement got a big boost when FMI published a Sustainable Seafood Retailer Toolkit, a free resource guide created by the trade organization’s Sustainable Seafood Committee.
“Our mission is to move the industry forward in a pre-competitive way,” said von Zastrow, “because we all sense the urgency of the work that we have before us to create a more sustainable supply chain.”
Then, there’s the customer. Shoppers are becoming more interested in the sources of their food, and their curiosity is moving the issue of sustainability to the forefront. Education is yet another part of the sustainability challenge that retailers, suppliers and certification agents have had to collaborate on.
“Customers expect their retailers to be looking out for the environment, so the expectation is there whether or not they’re actually asking the questions,” noted Taylor. “They’re relying on their retailers to have the appropriate expertise.”