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What's in Store: Home grown

Roche Bros. builds tight partnership with local purveyor

By Christine Blank
December 01, 2012

The seafood traceability program that Roche Bros. launched this fall gives the 18-store retailer an important point of differentiation in the competitive New England grocery market. The Wellesley Hills, Mass., company partnered with Boston seafood processor Foley Fish on a fully traceable, local fish campaign. With Sea Trace, Roche shoppers can scan QR codes for selected species to see the fishing vessel and the location and method of harvest.

The new system drives home the point that buying local seafood is important to its shoppers. 

“Our competitors are focused more on price versus quality and local, which has given us a nice little niche in the market,” says Arthur Ackles, director of deli and seafood for Roche Bros., which typically gets haddock, cod, Acadian redfish, sole, monkfish, oysters, scallops and other species from day-boats.

“The local customer is hungry for fish harvested here. Most of Roche’s competitors have gone to overseas supplies to keep costs steady,” says Laura Foley Ramsden, owner of Foley Fish, the sole seafood supplier for Roche.  (In November, Foley earned chain-of-custody certification from the Marine Stewardship Council.)

While nearly half of Roche’s fresh seafood offerings are local, area Whole Foods Market stores don’t have many local seafood items, according to Foley Ramsden. “Whole Foods kicked a bunch of New England seafood out of their cases about a year ago because they went with a rating system,” she says. 

In addition, the sustainability of New England seafood is not sufficiently promoted in the media, according to Foley Ramsden. 

“When you hear that certain fisheries have been declared a disaster, that is not correct. Instead, we try to say that these fish are fished and harvested according to restrictive catch levels so as to not ‘overdraft the checking account,’” says Foley Ramsden. 

Roche uses Sea Trace and other in-store communications about local and sustainable fish rather than third-party certification. “The Roche program focuses on communicating the management measures in place for every U.S. fishery, which is mandated by the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” says Foley Ramsden.

The traceability program offers a further step than most sustainability certification schemes, according to Foley Ramsden. “When you have a program with red, yellow and green ratings, it does nothing to talk about how that fish was landed. This confirms to the consumer how the seafood is being handled at sea, and that nothing is being added to this product,” she says.

So far, that tactic has worked well: Roche’s emphasis on local, quality seafood resulted in a 3 percent increase in fresh seafood department sales in 2012. “That’s a nice accomplishment, considering overall store sales are flat based on the economy,” says Ackles.

Foley Fish offers the Sea Trace program specifically for local New England-area seafood. “We really want to get the word out that these local fishermen are fishing with the strictest fisheries management rules in the state,” says Foley Ramsden. 

Roche Bros. promotes Sea Trace in its stores with a sustainability video for seafood staff and a consumer brochure that shows how each species was caught and processed. 

Foley Fish provides a recipe of the week featuring different underutilized species on the “sustainability stand” in Roche’s stores. “We try to push those items that people aren’t familiar with, such as redfish and hake,” says Ackles. Foley Ramsden demos local seafood at Roche store openings and at other events. “She is more knowledgeable about the seafood than anyone I know,” says Ackles.

Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla.

 

December 2012 - SeaFood Business  

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