More Than Sustainable
Speaking of sustainability, all were in agreement regarding its ongoing importance.
“The latest UN FAO data shows that more than one-third (34%) of fish stocks are estimated to be overfished, which is reason alone to make sustainable fishing critical to keep global fish populations healthy,” notes Erika Feller, regional director, Americas at the London-based nonprofit Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). “But that, combined with the global human population set to reach 10 billion by 2050 and the demand for blue foods — foods from aquatic animals, plants or algae — estimated to double by roughly that same time, are important reasons why sustainable seafood is critical for a healthy planet and healthy people.”
In fact, according to Feller, “Shoppers want to hear more from companies about what they’re doing on sustainability. But not just any claims: Consumers are looking for credible sustainability claims. We’re seeing that 64% of U.S. seafood consumers demand third-party validation of environmental claims. So seeing credible, independent labels on pack is important to shoppers and helps to drive demand.”
She also attests to “the power of simple point-of-choice messaging to help consumers shop their values and navigate the many marketing messages they’re bombarded with each day. Simple messaging that highlights the retailer’s sustainability commitment, and pointing out what independent verification labels to look for, is working.”
On their end, many retailers and suppliers are striving to meet consumer expectations in this area.
“We value sustainability and transparency just as much as our customers do, which is why all of our fresh, chilled and frozen stand-alone seafood products are responsibly sourced by industry criteria without a higher price tag,” says Aldi’s Patton. “On top of that, over 100 of those products are certified sustainably sourced by a third party, and we also have a partnership with the Ocean Disclosure Project (ODP) to make wild-caught seafood origin visible to the public.”
“The increase in demand for fish and seafood is growing rapidly, so being able to source seafood in a way that protects both the species and its habitat is key for the future of the industry,” observes Jennifer Barrett, VP of sales at Downey, Calif.-based Del Pacifico Seafoods, which supplies Fair Trade Certified wild-caught shrimp: “Differentiators like sustainability, fair-trade certification, and products that make an environmental or social impact are important as consumers look for products that they can feel good about purchasing.”
“Consumers shop with their conscience,” notes Seattle Fish Co.’s Figueroa. “Distributors and retailers have an obligation to provide transparent, credible information about food so consumers can make their own personal choices that align with their values, goals and beliefs.”
Many companies have even begun rethinking the term “sustainability.”
“If we want our children and grandchildren to have access to the resource, then our entire industry needs to get onboard,” urges De Caro. “We also think it’s time to do even more and look beyond the traditional definition of sustainability to things like renewable energy, social responsibility and community impact. We have a really great story to tell even beyond the certified sustainability of the resources we sell.”
What’s more, he notes: “As great as certified-sustainable fisheries are, they can be daunting for local artisanal groups to initially achieve. Allowing for a more holistic approach to sustainability provides opportunities and employment to small communities and artisanal fishermen that might not otherwise be available to them, while also encouraging sustainable fishing efforts.”
“We know consumers are looking for truly sustainable options in the seafood aisle,” says Wildtype co-founder and CEO Justin Kolbeck. “To us, sustainability means protecting our oceans and the wild fish that keep them healthy. It also means quantifying greenhouse gas and other pollutants that are associated with current fishing practices, so consumers can make informed decisions about the products on offer. We recently announced our first distribution agreements with retail and restaurant partners that will help us to pave the way for a wide variety of consumers to experience Wildtype salmon. These partners came to us because their customers are asking for a level of sustainability and transparency that’s hard to come by in conventional seafood channels.”
What it comes down to is that, as pandemic-weary folks finally re-emerge from lockdown and start eating out more frequently, seafood retailers and manufacturers can maintain shopper interest and counteract an expected slide in sales at grocery with no-fuss items and an unwavering commitment to uphold consumers’ most deeply held values.
As Figueroa puts it, “Consumers will … continue to demand convenience, like self-serve, easy-to-prepare dishes, but will not compromise their values on quality and sustainability.”