« December 2009 Table of Contents
Going Green: Talking points
Sustainability should be discussed with consumers - just don't use the 'S' word
By Lisa Duchene
December 01, 2009
Chris Lane will tell you exactly what Xanterra has
accomplished around its sustainable seafood goals - and where
it's falling short.
Lane, VP of environmental affairs for the Denver restaurant
operator, would like Xanterra to extend its ban on red-list
fish to include wild shrimp.
"We are not there yet with our research and we are not there
yet with regard to the internal economic implications and
potential mitigation required to move on this issue," says
Lane. "People want their shrimp cocktails."
Xanterra has 65 restaurants at resorts such as Silverado
Resort in Napa Valley, Calif., and national and state parks
such as Mount Rushmore. The company has worked on sustainable
seafood purchasing for 10 years, and follows advice from the
Monterey Bay Aquarium. Company-wide, Xanterra promotes wild
Alaska salmon and bans its chefs from serving shark, bluefin
tuna, Atlantic swordfish, Chilean sea bass or farmed salmon.
The rest of the species selection is at the chef's
Xanterra explains this policy to customers via its menu, an
annual environmental responsibility report and posters at its
Whatever decisions your company makes around the
environmental responsibility of its seafood supply, talk to
your customers about your effort.
"We strongly encourage people to talk about
[sustainability]," says Laurie Demeritt, president and COO of
The Hartman Group, a Bellevue, Wash., environmental products
Don't wait to be perfectly squeaky green before sharing the
information, she says. The Hartman Group's studies indicate 80
percent of consumers take sustainability claims at face value,
leaving a small percentage who challenge companies.
Consumers see their own reach toward environmental
responsibility as a journey and want to purchase products from
companies on the same journey, says Demeritt.
"They want to see that same change in values and beliefs
that they're going through from the companies they purchase
from," she says.
What's the best way to talk to consumers about
For one, don't use the "S" word, advises Demeritt, as
consumers have trouble connecting with it. Better words are
"responsibility," "community," "local" and "caring for the
family." Convey how a sustainable-seafood product directly
benefits a consumer, whether that's better flavor, quality,
health or value - those attributes trump environmental
"Food still has to be fun and indulgent and about love and
if you get too serious, it's not going to resonate with
mainstream people," she says.
Xanterra's menus use the Marine Stewardship Council logo,
and an in-house logo that is a green planet set with leaves
that evokes an image of an apple and key words to an indicate
an environmentally responsible choice. "Fresh, wild and
certified" describes an Alaska salmon menu item. Hartman's
consumer research indicates 40 percent of consumers view
sustainability certification as important and prefer a
non-profit certifier over a government body or the company
making the claim. The MSC logo resonates with about 15 to 20
percent of U.S.
consumers, according to the Hartman
Most folks, says Xanterra's Lane, aren't thinking
sustainable-seafood when they sit down at a restaurant.
"Joe Six-Pack and Joe Plumber do not know what Monterey Bay
is," he says. "But all of California does and that's a lot of
Andronico's eight specialty supermarkets in San Francisco
are a stone's throw from Monterey Bay. Half of its stores are
in Berkeley, a hot-bed of conversation and activism over the
environmental impact of conventional food.
"These customers are tough," says Reid Pomerantz, the
store's director of meat and seafood operations. "They know
what they're talking about. They're as conscientious as any
consumers you're going to find anywhere."
Andronico's seafood departments use the aquarium's Seafood
Watch color systems on seafood product labels. For the past few
years Andronico's has contracted with Santa Cruz-based group
FishWise for help sourcing, labeling and training and uses its
logo on signage. Andronico's also explains the program with POS
brochures, Seafood Watch wallet cards and places the FishWise
logo and Monterey Bay colors alongside seafood products
featured in its weekly ads.
All that signage prompts customers to ask questions.
"You can do everything I've done," Pomerantz says. "You can
have the pretty colored signs, have the POS materials for them
to digest. You can hang up whatever you want to. When it comes
down to it, it's how the people in the department interact with
the customers and educate them."
The counter staff explains that Andronico's has partnered
with an environmental group to ensure it's proactive and
responsible and believes the all-encompassing program goes
farther than any other local seafood merchant, says Pomerantz.
"We have to keep it simple. We're not scientists."
Andronico's also - quite wisely, according to Demeritt -
puts itself in the same boat as its customers. "We try to
strike up a conversation that can lead to a position of us
being as concerned as they are," says Pomerantz.
The biggest mistake when it comes to talking to consumers
about sustainable seafood is
"Whatever you're claiming," says Demeritt, "you have to be
absolutely doing and it must have teeth behind it."
FishWise audits Andronico's seafood departments quarterly
and sends Pomerantz a report from each store.
Xanterra reports data - like 15.7 percent of all its food
purchases in 2008 were "sustainable cuisine" - in its annual
"If anyone challenges me I'll give them the data," says
Lane. "I can tell you exactly how green we are."
Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene lives in Bellefonte,