« January 2014 Table of Contents
Networking: Carl Salamone
VP-seafood sustainability, Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y.
By James Wright
January 01, 2014
During a supermarket career spanning nearly five decades, Carl Salamone became one of the most respected seafood merchandisers in the business. Midway through last year, he was named VP of seafood sustainability for Wegmans, a family-owned chain of 83 stores in six Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states with annual sales of $6.6 billion. Salamone has spent all 47 years of his retail career at the grocer based in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y. The only other employer he’s ever known was the U.S. Army during the mid-1960s. He clearly understands what dedicated service is all about.
A focus on sustainability is not limited to seafood at Wegmans, which has an overarching goal of limiting its carbon footprint, increasing awareness of reduce-reuse-recycle facilities in its stores and educating consumers about all of its environmental stewardship efforts. Sourcing products from like-minded companies is paramount, says Salamone, 67, adding that the commitment to sustainability is deeply important to the Wegman family — and it’s nothing new. “Doing things right is part of the company’s DNA,” he says.
Did you ever foresee your position being reality, much less a necessity?
When I first got started, my biggest challenge was just learning how to sell seafood. We were very limited in our supply at the time; all the fish was from the North Atlantic, very little farmed fish and just a little shrimp. Through the 1970s and ‘80s, there was never any concern about sustainable fish. It seemed like it was a never-ending resource. It wasn’t until the 2000s that we began to see that it’s not. So to answer your question, no, it was the furthest thing from my mind.
How different is the new job?
Six months in now, I recognize that if you’re going to be serious about sustainability you have to devote your full working time to it. In my past as a seafood merchant, yes, I was concerned about sustainability, but my primary job was to merchandise seafood.
How important is it for prominent food companies like yours to make this type of commitment?
I was humbled the Wegman family thought of me for this position. I know sustainability is so important to the family. They said to me that we are going to devote your whole working week to it. I’ve worked with three generations of Wegmans now. [That commitment] is inbred.
Will other retailers follow your lead?
I’d like to think so. It’s a position a company has to feel very strongly about to put a person in charge of this particular part of it.
What’s changed in the seafood business? And what hasn’t?
My first visit to the Boston Fish Pier was in 1975. There was so much fish you could trip over it. It felt like a never-ending resource. Now sustainability is at the top of the list, as well as working as direct as you can, with fishermen and farms. Fifteen years ago, it was all third- or fourth-party [sourcing]. As the resource became more challenged we had to go back further in the chain.
What hasn’t changed? The fact that every single day, something changes. The dynamics of this business have not changed: purchasing it, moving it, understanding it and also what we as an industry can do to assure we have it around for our grandchildren.
Is simply saying ‘no’ to a pressured species a smart strategy?
Saying no doesn’t help anything. But saying we’re willing to see the fishery improve … We are not here to put anyone out of business, but to sell seafood from healthy resources. We’re working on [fishery improvement projects] and challenged seven suppliers to work on one FIP in the United States.