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What's in Store: Stepping up

Supervalu commits to ambitious sustainable seafood sourcing plan

By Christine Blank
July 05, 2011

Supervalu seafood executives are pleased with the retailer’s “head start” on sustainability, since around 44 percent of the top 20 wild species it sells are already certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or are in the full-assessment phase.

In May, Minneapolis-based Supervalu laid out aggressive plans to source 100 percent of its top 20 wild seafood products from sustainable fisheries or those with a clear action plan toward sustainability by 2015. The fisheries must be certified by the MSC or be involved in a Fishery Improvement Project with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“In a perfect-case situation, we would like to source 100 percent of our volume from sustainable fisheries and aquaculture projects,” says Chris Hooks, VP-meat, seafood, dairy and frozen foods. “Right now, what we are able to say publicly is about our top 20 [wild species], but we have several other efforts underway that we are not able to elaborate on.”

Supervalu is one of many large U.S. retailers to shift to sustainable seafood sourcing over the past few years. However, Supervalu’s buying power could really impact the advancement of certain fisheries and aquaculture species toward sustainability. It is one of the largest U.S. retailers, with 2,500 stores operated under the banners of Albertsons, Acme, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s/Star Market, Save-A-Lot and others. In addition to its retail operations, Supervalu is a supplier to more than 5,000 stores.

“We believe our commitment to have the top 20 wild species coming from MSC-certified fisheries or those that are in full assessment is attainable across multiple banners. Although our banners operate in varying geographic areas, we don’t necessarily view sustainability as being a challenge in different geographic areas,” says Hooks.

That does not mean that the sustainable seafood assortment will look the same in every Supervalu-owned store. “Assortment and promotional programs will continue to meet the needs of the neighborhood,” says Hooks.

Meanwhile, Supervalu will start promoting its wild species that are already certified as sustainable by the MSC. “We are ahead of the curve on a couple of species such as wild Alaskan salmon and wild Alaskan halibut. We want to capitalize on the fact that those are sustainable,” says Hooks. Supervalu plans to promote both species with labeling and other methods, which may shift shoppers’ buying patterns from other non-sustainable wild species that haven’t been assessed yet to those fish.

In addition, Supervalu is already sourcing from the Canadian offshore lobster fishery, certified by MSC in June 2010. “We expect that fishery to grow even larger in the near future,” says Hooks.

Still, Supervalu’s wholesale buyers are seeking additional suppliers of MSC-certified seafood. “We would encourage any MSC-certified suppliers who are not doing business with us to contact us,” says Hooks.

Supervalu is working with WWF to support its Fishery Improvement Projects, in order to shift more fisheries to more responsible practices. For example, WWF and Supervalu are working on an action plan to bring the Indonesia yellowfin tuna fisheries up to MSC standards. “It is an excellent project for us to put our resources behind,” says Hooks.

“We are in the process of developing the work plan for that,” says Meredith Lopuch, director of WWF’s Major Buyer Initiative. Lopuch works with the largest U.S. retailers on fishery improvement projects that will lead to sustainability and the long-term health of the ocean. “We are very happy that Supervalu decided to support fishery improvement project work. We see that as the core way to address the issues in our ocean.” When WWF begins its work with major retailers such as Supervalu, adds Lopuch, it evaluates which specific fisheries make up the retailers’ top 20 species. Then it determines which fisheries are MSC-certified or are in full assessments to obtain certification, and which ones are not.

“We work with the fisheries the retailers are working with and their suppliers that they are already with, as opposed to shifting to others. The most important thing is getting the ocean switched over [to sustainable fishing],” says Lopuch.

Sourcing sustainably farmed fish is also a priority at Supervalu, and it falls in line with its other eco-friendly efforts. “Within Supervalu, we have a large-scale task force working on a number of initiatives, including zero-waste stores,” says Hooks. The retailer and distributor participates in the WWF-led Aquaculture Dialogues, which set standards for certain farmed species like tilapia. “It has been a multi-stakeholder project for eight of the most important species globally,” says Lopuch, who expects all of the standards to be “wrapped up” this summer.

As Supervalu executives progress on their seafood sustainability efforts, they plan to update shoppers and the public about those initiatives and use them in marketing campaigns. “We plan to share our suppliers’ success stories,” says Hooks.

Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla.

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