MISSOULA, Mont. — Nearly 1,100 Supervalu-owned Albertsons stores have agreed to post mercury advisories on store seafood cases nationwide in response to a year-long campaign by two environmental groups here, Women's Voices for the Earth and Oceana.
“Supervalu has posted in its stores an informational brochure regarding mercury levels in fish that is available for free to customers at all Albertsons, Acme, Jewel-Osco and Shaw's stores,” Supervalu spokeswoman Haley Meyer said. “We have recently updated this brochure and brochure holder, and these materials will be in place by the end of November.”
The new brochures are bigger, and an advisory sign is now on the front display panel of the brochure holder to identify the most at-risk groups and references the brochure for more information, Meyer told SN.
In October, a study commissioned by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration created new advisories for the consumption of fish. The study concluded that the benefits of eating fish and seafood outweigh the risks from contaminants, but advised consumers on how much of certain types of fish can be safely consumed on a weekly basis and which types of fish to avoid.
Oceana believes there is a significant difference between offering brochures and posting signs about seafood contamination, said Jackie Savitz, director of Oceana's campaign to stop seafood contamination.
“Most shoppers are pretty busy and they're not really interested in stopping to read a brochure,” Savitz said. “But if there's a sign on the seafood counter that clearly states which fish they should not eat, they'll be more likely to get that message. So to me, the big difference in what Albertsons is doing and the reason why we recognize them is because now they're agreeing to post the signs in addition to the brochures.”
Oceana recently published its Green List and Red List of supermarket chains that are posting the advice. To make it onto the Green List, the retailer must have signs up, not just brochures.
The retailers design the signs and Oceana makes recommendations as to what types of information should be included, which falls under the FDA advice on which fish women of childbearing age and children should avoid.
The lists were first published in June and, according to Savitz, Oceana believes it has included all major U.S. retailers who have advisory signs posted. The exceptions are the smaller chains like Greenlife Grocers, Asheville, N.C., which only has two stores, but has signs up.
Savitz told SN that in Oceana's report, “Vital Signs: The Status of Mercury Warning Signs in U.S. Grocery Stores,” states were ranked on whether they were likely to have signs in their grocery stores.
“Some of the chains on the West Coast had as much as 70% to 75% of its stores posting signs, which is great, so if you're a shopper, you're very likely to get this information,” Savitz said. “But in the Southeast, we had a lot of states, for example, Alabama, where none of the stores were posting signs at all.”
Stores on the Green List include Acme, Carrs, Dominick's, Genuardi's, Jewel-Osco, Randalls, Safeway, Shaw's, Star Market, Tom Thumb, Trader Joe's, Vons, Whole Foods, Wild Oats and now Albertsons stores in Southern California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
Putting up the signs costs almost nothing and Wild Oats found that its seafood sales actually increased after the signs were installed, Savitz said.
“It's the cost of making a copy,” she said. “Pennies. Well worth the piece of mind they are giving their customers, especially those with kids.”
While the increased sales cannot be linked directly to the signs, retailers should realize that they obviously did not have a negative impact on sales, at least not for Wild Oats, said Sonja Tuitele, spokeswoman for the retailer.
“We took a leadership position on this issue when we learned that most people, particularly those in the risk populations — pregnant women and small children — were unaware of the FDA warning about mercury in certain kinds of seafood,” Tuitele said. “At the time we did this, in spring 2003, we had embarked on several other initiatives that drove increases in the sales of our seafood, so our seafood sales went up even though we were informing our customers about an important health issue.”
Women's Voices for the Earth conducted a number of demonstrations outside of the Boise, Idaho, and Missoula Albertsons stores in June. The group reached out to Albertsons almost on a monthly basis to try to get the chain to shift in conjunction with many of the activities Oceana has been engaged in, Savitz said.
“Ultimately, what I think convinces the companies is their customers. Women's Voices for the Earth mobilized Albertsons' customers and really put a lot of pressure on the company,” she said.