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What's in store: Big influence

Walmart, Target grow sustainable seafood choices

By Christine Blank
May 05, 2011

As Walmart goes, so do retailers worldwide. Known for years as a leader in pricing and distribution, Walmart is now impacting the global sustainable seafood trade. And as a result, other large chains will also have to step up their games.

At the International Boston Seafood Show in March, the Bentonville, Ark., company announced that its Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in the United States are requiring all of its fresh and frozen seafood products to be third-party certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP).

All of Walmart and Sam’s Club products from uncertified wild fisheries and aquaculture producers must have developed plans toward MSC certification by the end of this month. Then, suppliers’ plans must be finalized and under way no later than June 2012. Walmart has not been the only mass merchandiser chain to transform its sustainability practices, however. Minneapolis-based Target removed Chilean sea bass from its stores earlier this year and in 2010 it delisted farmed salmon from its assortment. “Since announcing the elimination of farmed salmon, we have received a great response from our guests and remain committed to this assortment,” says company spokesperson Jenna Reck. Target’s removal of farmed salmon also led to Greenpeace ranking it as the No. 1 retailer in its annual sustainable seafood ranking in 2010. 

Target’s seafood sustainability program, announced publicly in 2010, included a “commitment to expand our selection of sustainable product choices that effectively balance price, performance and convenience,” says Reck. To that end, Target is adding private label Market Pantry skinless wild salmon fillets, SeaPak tempura shrimp and crab cakes, private label Archer Farms “Pubstyle” breaded fillets and Sea Cuisine breaded fillets to its assortment this spring and summer.

While Walmart is the grocery leader among mass-merchandiser chains — it is the largest grocery retailer in the nation, regardless of category — Target is becoming a major player in the grocery and seafood arena. The retailer continues to add both private label and brand name fresh and frozen seafood selections at its 251 SuperTarget stores. Just a few of the fresh seafood products featured at some of the SuperTarget stores nationwide include: Sonoma tilapia stuffed with crabmeat, Echo Falls lox salmon, Viking lutefisk, Hilton oysters and Blue Star lump crabmeat.

Target is also rapidly expanding its P-Fresh format, a regular Target with a limited selection of fresh, frozen and dry grocery products, to stores across the United States This year, Target is converting an additional 400 of its traditional stores to the P-Fresh format; the chain remodeled around 350 of its stores in 2010 to the concept.

While Target’s P-Fresh stores do not yet include fresh seafood, they carry quite a variety of frozen seafood. Frozen seafood items in some P-Fresh stores include: Archer Farms sea bass fillets, Blue Horizon tempura shrimp, Mrs. Paul’s breaded fish fillets, Gorton’s grilled salmon and SeaPak popcorn shrimp.

In addition, this year Target is adding frozen seafood items that are sourced based on shoppers’ local preferences. 

“For example, Target will add a greater selection of catfish and crawfish in the South and haddock and red crab in the Northeast,” says Reck.

Even though Wal-mart has not made quick, public advances on its sustainable seafood program, launched in 2006, the 8,500-store global chain has been progressing the sustainable seafood movement.

Walmart’s new, stricter policy broadens the scope of the chain’s sustainability program to include all seafood. The 2006 agreement included only wild finfish species;
the new initiative includes both wild and farmed seafood. 

“Walmart’s overall goal is to increase the availability of sustainable seafood globally,” according to a statement from the chain on its seafood sustainability program. To that end, the retailer does not want to stop sourcing from fisheries and farms that do not meet international sustainability standards. “We would rather use our buying power to provide both an incentive and a path to become sustainable,” says the statement.

Dick Jones, director-Americas for Sustainable Fisheries Partnership in Honolulu, Hawaii, lauds Walmart’s policy of supporting fisheries as they work toward sustainability certification. The group is advising Walmart on the status of the retailer’s current fisheries and providing new sustainable fishery options. 

“They have done a very good job with supporting fisheries that were nowhere near passing the MSC process in 2006, as long as those fisheries are correcting deficiencies and meeting the goals and timelines in their work plan toward certification,” says Jones.

In fact, several fisheries have entered the MSC process as a result of Walmart’s commitment, according to Jones. “I can point to hake, crab, hoki, shrimp and flounder fisheries globally that were significant for the Walmart supply chain and entered the MSC process due to the Walmart commitment,” says Jones.

While retailers globally are advancing sustainable seafood practices, Walmart and Target’s commitments represent a significant transformation in the industry. Seafood vendors’ largest potential customers are requiring them to shift their practices to conform to a new era of sustainability.

Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla.

May 2011 - SeaFood Business 

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