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What's In Store: Going Dutch

Netherlands’ big national commitment to MSC closer to fruition

By Christine Blank
April 05, 2012

Buying sustainable seafood during their weekly shopping trips is quickly becoming a way of life for Dutch consumers. Nearly 100 percent of wild, private-label seafood sold at Albert Heijn, the Netherlands’ largest supermarket chain, and Lidl, the discount supermarket chain based in Neckarsulm, Germany, with around 10,000 stores throughout Europe, is Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified. 

The other major Dutch grocery chains are also working toward becoming fully sustainable, after they all committed to a goal of using 100 percent MSC-certified seafood in their wild, private-label products by 2011. 

“All the retailers now have a large selection of MSC-certified seafood. Albert Heijn is the king, and all other retailers in the region are between 80 percent and 90 percent,” says Nathalie Steins, manager of the MSC Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) office.

On top of that, upscale fish market chain Fishes of Spakenburg, Netherlands, sells only seafood that is MSC-certified seafood or is on the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) “green” list. 

When the grocery chains committed to MSC for their wild, private-label products in 2007, it forced major seafood brands and private-label suppliers to begin the MSC certification process. 

“[The retailers] really triggered the Dutch fisheries into getting their act together,” says Steins. 

It’s also had a ripple effect in Europe: In Denmark, competing retailer groups Coop, Dansk Supermarked and SuperGros — which together represent 97 percent of the Danish market — united last month to promote MSC-certified seafood. 

In addition, Greenpeace and WWF have raised awareness in the country about which seafood species they feel are sustainable and which ones are not. Many Dutch consumers carry the WWF and North Sea Foundation’s Fishing Guide wallet card, which segments seafood by MSC-certified, green (a good sustainable choice), orange (second choice) and red (better not eat).

“We have had some very public activities from conservation groups like WWF and Greenpeace. WWF has been very important in promoting sustainable seafood and presenting MSC as the good choice,” says Steins.

As a result, one in three Dutch consumers recognizes the MSC label, according to WWF and other surveys. In addition, 50 percent of seafood purchasers are familiar with the Fishing Guide.

And thanks to marketing and education efforts, Dutch shoppers bought 50 percent more sustainable wild seafood in the first half of 2010, compared to the same period in 2009, according to Platform Verduurzaming Voedsel and LEI in the Netherlands.

The Dutch Retail Association (DRA) recently said that its supermarkets will strive to sell only farmed seafood that meets the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) standards by 2016. Other major European retailers, such as Migros and Edeka, have also committed to the ASC standards. The ASC was founded in 2009 by WWF and IDH (Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative) to manage global standards for responsible aquaculture developed by the Aquaculture Dialogues.

“Our customers should feel confident that they always buy responsible seafood, whether it is farmed or wild caught. We are pleased that farmed fish that meets the ASC standard will be available shortly,” says Marc Jansen, director of consumer affairs and quality at DRA. 

Even though many Dutch consumers are purchasing  sustainable seafood, suppliers and retailers plan to continue growing the category. The MSC, Albert Heijn and other supermarket chains, are conducting an annual marketing campaign in April to promote MSC-certified seafood. 

“Retailers have discounts on MSC-certified fish and informational materials about MSC and their private-label seafood,” says Steins. 


Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla. 

April 2012 - SeaFood Business

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