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Behind the Lines: Ripple effect

MSC label on Filet-O-Fish may push increased adoption in marketplace

McDonald’s use of the eco-label could influence the rest of the market. - Photo courtesy of McDonald’s USA
By Lauren Kramer
April 01, 2013

The decision by McDonald’s USA to use the Marine Stewardship Council’s blue eco-label on its fish packaging in 14,000 restaurants nationwide starting in February is likely to have far-reaching implications in the industry. The company changed its sourcing practices in 2007, buying MSC-certified Alaska pollock and New Zealand hoki for its Filet-O-Fish sandwiches. Last year it completed a third-party chain-of-custody audit of its supply chain through Marine Resources and Fisheries Consultants, which gave the green light for McDonald’s to start marketing its fish products with the eco-label.

“This is really part of a focus on corporate social responsibility,” says Darren Tristano, executive VP at Technomic in Chicago. “Sustainability and transparency are now expected by consumers who are concerned with where the world is going.”

Because McDonald’s is such a heavyweight, its decision will likely affect the sourcing and labeling practices of other fast-food chains too, he adds. “When McDonald’s moves in a certain direction everyone around them has to look at whether they want to do the same thing. In the next nine to 18 months we can expect other QSRs to move in this direction.”

Tristano doubts the label will lead to more Filet-O-Fish sales, but it will impact brand loyalty, he says. “For those choosing a Filet-O-Fish instead of the burger, it’s going to make them feel better about the brand,” he says. 

One of the goals behind the decision was to make customers more aware of where their food comes from, says Christina Tyler, McDonald’s spokesperson. “As one of the largest single buyers of fish in the United States, McDonald’s scale will help assure that growing seafood demands are balanced with MSC’s responsible sourcing practices, to protect the health and sustainability of fish stocks for the future,” she says. 

“McDonald’s collaboration with the MSC is a critical part of our company’s sustainability journey,” Tyler adds. “The use of the MSC eco-label is a symbol of our long-term commitment to sustainable sourcing and our desire to share that commitment with our customers.”

Warren Solochek, VP of client development for the NPD Group in Chicago, says McDonald’s decision to add the MSC ecolabel puts the company ahead of the sustainability curve, which is important. “It’s just another thing McDonald’s is doing to try convince the American public that eating its food is not a bad thing and that there are ways to get healthy food there, food that does not destroy the planet,” he says. “McDonald’s voice is so loud, and so many people hear it. For a chain this large to be making this kind of effort is huge and I admire them for doing this.”

Jim Cannon, CEO at Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, has worked with McDonald’s and welcomed the news of the chain using the eco-label. 

“The company has consistently been at the leading edge of activities to improve the management of our oceans by improving sources, rather than just switching to ‘good’ sources,” he says. “This has transformed the whitefish sector, reversing decades of overfishing, rebuilding fish stocks and quotas and paying handsome dividends to all whitefish buyers worldwide. By asking its suppliers to step in line, we’re optimistic this means the supply chain will engage more in sustainable practices and make the improvements necessary to meet standards that [companies] like McDonald’s are setting.”

Cannon says that of the fisheries certified sustainable in the last decade, 61 percent by volume of landings, equivalent to 1.15 million tons, are a result of Fishery Improvement Projects initiated by SFP in which McDonald’s suppliers played a critical role.

The company sold more than 200 million Filet-O-Fish sandwiches in the United States in 2012. In February the company launched Fish McBites, bite-size pieces of Alaska pollock in 3-ounce, 5-ounce and 10-ounce portions that were menued during Lent from February through March. 

“This is the first fish item ever included in a Happy Meal and it’s the first time McDonald’s USA has introduced a new fish menu item in a long time,” Tyler says. 

Time will tell where the MSC or another eco-label will appear on other products in the market. 

Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in Richmond, British Columbia

Find other SeaFood Business articles covering eco-labeling here.

April 2013 - SeaFood Business  

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