Rochester, N.Y. — Wegmans Food Markets here has announced a partnership with New York-based Environmental Defense to establish a first-of-its-kind purchasing policy for its raw farmed shrimp.
The new purchasing standards will require farmed shrimp producers to eliminate the use of antibiotics and other chemicals from their aquaculture operations, avoid damaging sensitive habitats, treat their wastewater before releasing it into the ocean or nearby waterways, and reduce the use of wild fish to feed shrimp. Suppliers will demonstrate their compliance with these standards by meeting aggressive performance targets and implementing an auditing and reporting system to monitor progress.
The policy requires that suppliers immediately meet at least nine of the purchasing standards, including strict standards for levels of PCBs and other contaminants, and comply with local laws. Suppliers must meet all 12 standards within one year.
“This partnership between Wegmans and Environmental Defense has offered a great opportunity to address the environmental impacts of shrimp farming while helping retailers and the seafood industry respond to consumer demand for high-quality, healthy food,” said Gwen Ruta, director of corporate partnerships, Environmental Defense, during a teleconference announcing the partnership.
Wegmans and Environmental Defense developed this purchasing policy in cooperation with Wegmans' farmed shrimp supplier, Belize Aquaculture Ltd.
“Over the years, we've been hearing an increase in customer concerns regarding the environment,” said Jeanne Colleluori, spokeswoman for Wegmans.
“As a company, we pride ourselves on doing the right thing for our customers, employees, communities and our company. This collaboration has been a very effective and positive method to accomplish our goals.”
The shrimp produced under this new purchasing policy began rolling out last week, and will be available in all of Wegmans' 71 stores, priced about $1 per pound more than Wegmans' raw wild shrimp, which come from a U.S. fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It's a little bit more costly for shrimp to be raised in this manner,” said Carl Salamone, vice president of seafood, Wegmans.
Shrimp accounts for 25% of Wegmans' total seafood sales, according to Colleluori, who declined to disclose a dollar amount.
The new farmed shrimp will be highlighted with in-store signage that says, “We're proud of this shrimp. Ask us why.” No other educational materials will be on hand, Colleluori said, because Wegmans is hoping to draw shoppers into conversations with employees about the new product.
“We have educated all of our store employees to have conversation with our customers, so anything that is conveyed at store level will come from personal conversation,” Colleluori said. “That's part of our customer service that we offer in our stores, but we also have information available on our website in the form of a Q&A for customers who are looking for anything more.”
Farmed shrimp produced in compliance with the new policy will also earn a “best choice” ranking according to the criteria used by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program and Environmental Defense.
Wegmans is currently working with four other shrimp suppliers in hopes of helping them meet these new standards as well. These suppliers supply Wegmans' frozen shrimp.
“Three of these suppliers actually started with us in 1993,” Salamone said. “They're really true partners. They're extremely interested in learning these specs and working toward meeting them for us.”
Wegmans and Environmental Defense have collaborated in the past as well. About a year ago, they developed a similar set of standards addressing the environmental issues surrounding farmed salmon.
“So the farmed shrimp is the second [set of standards] to come out of the partnership with Wegmans,” said Ruta.
“I think our initial plans for following up this announcement is to start getting the word out on these standards to the shrimp farming industry. Wegmans will be talking to its other suppliers, and we are definitely urging other retailers to begin those conversations with their farmed shrimp producers, so that's going to be our first focus of attention.”
The new shrimp standards are simply the latest example of how Wegmans has answered its shoppers' demands for foods free of artificial additives, said Colleluori. In 1991, Wegmans introduced its “Food You Feel Good About” banner, highlighting products that have no artificial ingredients. These new standards raise the bar even higher.
“All of Wegmans' ‘Food You Feel Good About’ farm-raised shrimp is raised without antibiotics, and as of 2003, it is processed without chemicals,” Colleluori said.
“We feel that farmed shrimp from Belize takes the program one step further: no artificial ingredients, no antibiotics, no processing chemicals, plus the added benefit of being environmentally friendly. “Providing earth-friendly seafood in our stores allows consumers to make informed choices and support business that are taking care of the marine environment. When health concerns are addressed and the coastal waters and wildlife are preserved, everyone wins.”