The demand for transparency in the information age has driven American shoppers to take a closer look at how their perimeter items, including seafood, are sourced.
“With access to information at their fingertips, consumers are now wanting to know not only where their fish came from and how it was caught but also how it was treated and how the people on the boat were treated,” wrote Judy Seybold, MS, RD, in a September blog post on Spins.com.
“Traceability makes good business sense,” she continued before addressing the economical roadblock presented to producers and retailers in the sector. “The ability to track and trace products throughout the entire supply chain has become of paramount importance to the food industry. However, it does come at a cost.”
Seybold writes that sustainable certifications may be an attractive sticker to place on products in order to entice eco-conscious shoppers, but their cost could force some retailers to raise prices and potentially counterbalance the goodwill they generate by boasting ethical practices.
Ken Plasse, CEO of Oregon’s Fishpeople, a seafood meal kit company that features sustainably caught fish filets, echoed Seybold’s point.
“We are seeing a huge trend in American consumers caring more about where they get their food across the board – they want to know the people, places and conditions that went into bringing their food to their plates,” he said. “Maybe this started with the proliferation of farmers’ markets across the country, bringing shoppers face to face with farmers and artisans, but it’s certainly carried over into grocery stores.”
Plasse believes that the early financial headwinds that accompany sustainable practices and transparency will eventually lead to smooth sailing.
“Doing things the right way in an industry that is known for its lack of transparency and innovation has meant rewriting the script in a lot of ways, which can get pricey,” he continued. “We know someone needs to crack this nut, whether that’s through supporting better practices in aquaculture or wild fisheries. Consumers are demanding sustainable seafood, and at Fishpeople we are challenging ourselves to meet that demand in an affordable, approachable way to help shift the industry. Sustainability is intrinsic to our DNA, so we’ll never compromise there. And as more people continue to seek options like Fishpeople, the seafood industry as a whole will be forced to offer more competitive pricing.”
The wholesale arm of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Sam’s Club, understands how to navigate this thin line.
After receiving the US Ocean Champion award from the Marine Stewardship Council for its harvesting of fish oil practices, the retailer commented on finding the balance between sustainability in seafood and managing price points.
“At Sam’s Club the member is at the center of every decision we make and we know that they care about using and supporting sustainable products, and they expect value at the same time,” said David Badeen, vice president of HealthCare at the Arkansas-based Sam’s Club. “We were recently awarded the Ocean Championship, which is proof that there can be a balance between providing value and sustainable products.”
Sam’s Club utilizes Sustainably Certified fisheries to harvest the Gulf of Alaska fish needed to provide the oil in its Member’s Mark brand fish and krill oil products.
The fish that are used are human-consumption quality, and the oil is extracted immediately after the catch.
“By educating consumers about the importance of sustainably sourced products at point-of-purchase, Sam’s Club is driving measurable change of empowering millions of Americans to choose supplements that support healthy oceans and thriving communities,” said the company in a release.
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