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What' in Store: Creative co-ops

Sustainability ratings are visible, but the choices belong to the shoppers

By Christine Blank
July 05, 2012

Co-op grocery stores are realizing major seafood sales as a result of comprehensive sustainability programs and a focus on sourcing high-quality product. 

For example, the 165 Co-op food stores, operated by Federated Co-operatives Ltd., recently began marketing a Reel in the Solution! sustainable seafood program to its shoppers. The program was developed by the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan–based supermarket chain and SeaChoice, a consortium of five Canadian conservation organizations that scientifically assess wild and farmed seafood species. The organization uses the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program as the basis of its assessments. 

After reviewing all of its seafood supplies over the past year, Federated removed Atlantic halibut, blue marlin, shark, Chilean sea bass, long-lined swordfish, skates, rays and orange roughy from its shelves because the stocks are endangered or are caught with “unsuitable” fishing methods, according to the SeaChoice recommendations. Now, the Co-op’s stores are urging shoppers to consider purchasing options it deems more sustainable, such as Arctic char, sablefish, steelhead trout, rainbow trout, Dungeness crab and farmed blue mussels. 

Federated is using signage in its seafood departments that reflects SeaChoice’s rankings and “stoplight” advisory system. Its POS sustainability information includes posters and brochures explaining its sustainable seafood policy and the SeaChoice ranking system, and pocket cards with the SeaChoice ranking. 

Co-op shoppers have responded positively to the new program, says Lisa Sparrow-Moellenbeck, Federated’s food-safety manager. “They want to know where their product is coming from, and the status of it. They realize that not everything they are going to eat is going to be [a best choice], so they are purchasing some green and some yellow items,” says Sparrow-Moellenbeck. Federated currently features eight green-ranked SKUs and 22 yellow SKUs. 

“Probably 35 percent of our fresh seafood offering is sustainable now, and we are working toward 100 percent,” says Sparrow-Moellenbeck. Instead of switching seafood distributors in the move toward sustainability, the chain continues to source sustainable seafood through Pacific Fresh Fish Co. in Regina, Sask., and Calgary, Alberta-based City Fish. 

Federated executives focused on fresh seafood for the first phase of the program and plan to review canned and frozen value-added seafood products over the next year. 

Focusing on sourcing high-quality, sustainable seafood is also what maintains seafood-department profitability at Hanover, N.H.-based Hanover Consumer Cooperative, which operates three grocery stores and a convenience store. 

“We are not going to compete with [supermarkets] on price, so we compete on quality and knowledge. We know where our product is coming from,” says Tony White, operations director for Hanover Consumer Co-Op. 

The company has partnered with FishWise’s seafood sustainability program (also based on Seafood Watch) for the past five years. 

Hanover still offers select FishWise red-list species (items to avoid) because of shopper demand. 

“Atlantic cod is probably never going to be anything but red-tagged in the FishWise program. However, we have long-standing relationships with small, family fishermen who do line-caught cod off the Georges Bank,” says White.

Hanover carries some red-list items but doesn’t advertise them. “Our approach is to educate the consumer, including letting them know they may want to find another fishery that has a higher rating, and then let them make the decision,” says White. 

Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla. 

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