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One on One: Peter Redmond

VP, development, administration and communications, Global Aquaculture Alliance, St. Louis

By James Wright
August 01, 2009

"This is the year that somebody will win this certification battle. For us to do so, I have to be an evangelist and a road warrior."

 

If the competition among aquaculture certification standards played out like a baseball pennant race, then the Global Aquaculture Alliance acquired an ace for the stretch run. After about one year of consulting for the GAA, veteran food-industry executive Peter Redmond joined the St. Louis-based organization full time in late May as VP of development, administration and communications. He's now taking the GAA's responsible and sustainable aquaculture message to the world's biggest seafood buyers, delivering his best pitch on how their farmed seafood procurement policies can help protect the environment.

Redmond, 43, became known to the seafood industry a few years ago while at Wal-Mart, his employer of 17 years. He worked his way up the ranks to VP and divisional manager for deli and seafood and then director of sustainability, a role in which he helped the mega-retailer change the way it bought seafood.

When he left Wal-Mart last year, Redmond formed Epiphany Group to consult on solutions for both the deli and seafood industries' environmental and business challenges. In this capacity he forged relationships with retailers worldwide, many of which are forming purchasing policies for farmed seafood. Redmond's current role is to expand the scope of the GAA's aquaculture certification standards, known as Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP).

An American citizen now, Redmond was born in the small eastern Ireland town of Wicklow and was raised in Rye, England. After he spent three years in the British Army, he left for the United States in 1987 with little money in his pocket. However, in just four years he graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in political science. "I use it a lot more now," he says of his education.

When Redmond isn't jetting from continent to continent for power meetings with buyers, you can find him tending to his 6 acres of apple trees and berry bushes, the fruits of which he sells at local farmers' markets. I tracked Redmond down in late May, shortly after his new position with GAA became official, to talk about Wal-Mart, aquaculture and why now is a crucial time for aquaculture certification standards.

 

How did Wal-Mart's sourcing policies change while you were there?

Wal-Mart went a lot more from what I call transactional relationships to strategic relationships. Not just buying fish - we got to know who the suppliers were. Their current goals are, by 2011, all wild products will be [Marine Stewardship Council] certified and their farmed products will be BAP certified. Now, if you want to be a Wal-Mart supplier, you must have a stated goal.

 

Should food companies 
have a sustainability officer?

I talk to a lot of retailers, and when I have the VPs in the room, if there is a sustainability officer involved, there's a much higher level of awareness. You need someone dedicated to that for forming policies.

 

Why go full-time with GAA?

When I started a year ago, it was a hard slog. People were embracing sustainability but didn't know what they wanted to do. When I met with retailers, I was half explaining what GAA was and what its stand was; it was foot soldier work. But awareness became greater and I developed fantastic relationships with buyers in the United States, Canada and the U.K. It's snowballing, and now we're talking about continental Europe - we were surprised at the level of support we already had there. The suppliers were looking for a solution and decided that BAP was the most credible.

 

How important are aquaculture certification standards?

They're critical for us as an industry to have something in place to make sure there are no knee-jerk reactions down the line. I like what the New England Aquarium says, which is to go out and adopt a certification program, but they don't say which one. As General Patton once said, "I'll take a good plan today versus a great plan tomorrow."

 

Is competition with World Wildlife Fund and GlobalGAP good?

Yes. At the end of the day, it's a business, even though this is the environment we're talking about. We can work with GlobalGAP and find harmony with them. In some way, a joint audit process would be good. [The World Wildlife Fund] is different in that nobody knows what [their standards] are going to look like. I was at one of their dialogues; the standards will be very good, but they will be so good it will be a challenge to meet them.

 

Should standards be harmonized?

From our perspective, we could have done our BAP standards, and the WWF Aquaculture Dialogues would've morphed into a gold standard. Then you'd have harmony and the supplier could choose - come in at one level and then aim higher.

 

Is there confusion about certification in the marketplace?

I think with the announcement of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (See Newsline, p. 10), from a retailer's point of view, they're very confused - not as to, "What are we doing," but "Why another set of standards? Why can't you combine them?"

It's also important to remember that [BAP] is a certification label and not an eco-label. What we're doing is more along the lines of corporate responsibility.

 

What's an area to watch for aquaculture growth?

Malaysia. I see them as one of the up-and-coming players. They have a larger coastline than Thailand and many high-potential sites for aquaculture. We're working with the Malaysian government to get them to adopt BAP as their official program. They understand what Europe and the United States want and will make the investments.

 

What's your schedule like?

I'm meeting with Aldi, McDonald's, Publix - I'm all over the place traveling four days a week but it's great. People aggressively want to see us. This is the year that somebody will win this certification battle. For us to do so, I have to be an evangelist and a road warrior.

 

Associate Editor James Wright can be e-mailed at jwright@divcom.com
 

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