ARLINGTON, Va. — The Food Marketing Institute has begun developing guidelines, best practices, case studies and other resources to help the supermarket industry address seafood sustainability issues.
“We're very excited about having such a diverse group of companies that are working together to develop an industry position on this important topic,” said Tracy Taylor, senior buyer for Ahold USA, Quincy, Mass., and chair of the newly formed FMI Sustainable Seafood Working Group, which is in charge of the development of these guidelines.
“There is a lot of confusing information out there, and the fact that this group is doing their homework to understand the issues and possible solutions is definitely a positive step forward for the industry.”
Jeanne Von Zastrow, senior director of member services, FMI, agreed.
“What we hope to gain is to help our members — there's a real need for our members, especially the seafood buyers, to understand sustainable seafood issues,” she said. “It is a serious issue that we're facing in terms of the depletion of the seafood supply.
“We're trying to help them understand what is the real story, what are the most reliable sources, how do we partner either with government or NGOs or other groups that can help us with the complexity of this issue.”
The group is consulting with the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, which is made up of more than a dozen conservation organizations from the U.S. and Canada, to develop guidelines to help companies create seafood sustainability programs.
Von Zastrow told SN that FMI hopes to have the guidelines completed by June 2009, when FMI will be hosting its second Sustainability Summit in San Francisco. However, the program is still in its preliminary planning stage, so these targets are not final.
“We're going to start talking about the specifics of what we want to develop in terms of tools and resources for our industry in February 2009,” Von Zastrow said, adding that FMI is hoping to design a “Seafood 101” instructional tool.
“It would help [our members] understand the lay of the land and reduce some of the confusion and complexity for retailers. And then, we'll be able to develop some guidelines in terms of the considerations to think about [when] developing a sustainable seafood procurement plan.”
The working group is also gathering case studies of retailer best practices — including certification programs designed by independent agencies and developed with non-governmental organizations — and compiling a list of experts, certification and auditing bodies, government agencies, NGOs and other resources with which retailers can consult.
“The seafood industry has been really excited about this,” Von Zastrow said. “We've had many suppliers, many NGOs, government and others that have contacted us and have wanted to check up with our group and update them on what their initiatives and what their positions are, so we've had very warm response from the industry.
“Many retailers have come forward once they read about the fact that we have this working group and have asked to be included, so clearly there's a lot of interest from retailers. They keep reading stories about this and wanting to get engaged.”