« March 2009 Table of Contents
What's in Store: Green list a go
Sustainable seafood strategy boosts New Leaf's sales
By Christine Blank
March 01, 2009
Differentiating itself from local grocery stores is paying
off for one natural seafood retailer, despite the recession.
While profits at many retailers are suffering in this economy,
sales are steadily rising at New Leaf Community Markets, a
six-store natural foods chain based in Santa Cruz, Calif.
The primary reason for the retail chain's continued
popularity, says Meat and Seafood Coordinator Chris Farotte, is
that customers appreciate that New Leaf purchases only
sustainable foods, and those with all-natural ingredients.
For New Leaf's organic and natural food shoppers, the way
seafood is farmed or harvested in the wild is somewhat more
important t h an other product attributes, such as fresh or
"We spend a lot of time on sustainability issues, such as
providing 100 percent natural and organic meat and sourcing all
clean ingredients," says Farotte.
To that end, New Leaf sources natural seafood, species that
are not overfished and species and catch methods that have
minimal impact on the marine environment. As a member of
FishWise, a retail sourcing and labeling program, New Leaf also
identifies species that have low levels of mercury and PCBs
Each seafood item in the case is labeled with the exact
species name, the location where the fish was caught, how it
was caught and a red, yellow or green label. In the FishWise
program, which New Leaf has used since 2003, a green label
means the seafood is sustainable based on four different
factors: fish populations, bycatch, habitat destruction and
A yellow label means FishWise has some concerns about the
species, and a red label means the organization deems the fish
unsustainable. Examples of fish that are currently on
FishWise's red list are shark and Chilean
"Having this merchandising and labeling program makes it so
simple for the customers to make sustainable choices,"
In addition to providing education, the labels are boosting
sales. For example, after New Leaf removed all red list items
from its seafood case in December 2005, customers appreciated
its sustainability efforts, and seafood
"Our sales increased about 10 percent that first year," says
Farotte. In 2007, sales rose about 5 percent and in 2008, they
increased about 2 percent.
Despite the difficult economy, its core natural food
shoppers are still buying premium seafood.
"Our customers would rather eat the way they want to eat,
but cut back a little on the amount per serving," says
At the same time, New Leaf has implemented several sourcing
and promotion programs to provide a value for customers on an
ongoing basis. For example, for the three-day
Valentine's/President's Day weekend this year, New Leaf's Surf
& Turf promotion featured Blue Horizon sustainable prawns,
regularly $12.99 a pound, for $9.99 a pound. The featured
"turf" item was Natural Choice "never ever" (the cattle is
never given antibiotics or hormones) filet mignon for $12.99 a
pound, discounted from $18.99 a pound.
In addition, New Leaf's purchasers consistently work with
their meat and seafood vendors to keep prices competitive.
"Our job is to bring as much value as we can to the
customer. We work with vendors to get the best price possible,"
In addition, New Leaf is focusing on a program that features
low-price products on a daily basis. "We are offering value on
certain items, by taking a lower
margin on everyday-priced
items," says Farotte.
Every two weeks, the seafood department, which consists of
an 8-foot full-service case in most New Leaf stores, promotes
sale items in its in-store flyers.
The seafood departments' sustainability efforts are also
highlighted for the customer
several times a year in New
Leaf's monthly newsletter.
Food retailers that run a sustainable-product only program
know that sourcing is a constant challenge. New Leaf's
customers are primarily interested in sustainable salmon,
halibut, tuna, tilapia and catfish, but Farotte is steadily
adding new seafood products as they are deemed or certified
For example, New Leaf recently added sustainable red snapper
from Morro Bay, Calif., through distributor Central Coast
Seafood in Atascadero, Calif. The fish is line caught and is on
the FishWise and Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
There are some challenges, though. In order to offer a
complete sustainable seafood program - about 30 different items
on a daily basis - Farotte spends a lot of time talking with
new vendors and checking on current suppliers, including
Central Coast; Pacific Harvest Seafoods in San Juan Batista,
Calif.; and Exclusive Fresh in Princeton-by-the-Sea, Calif.
One of the most difficult species for Farotte to source was
sustainable shrimp. Farotte found that a few suppliers were
providing what FishWise considers to be sustainable shrimp. In
order to provide something different than most stores, Farotte
started carrying organic prawns from Ecuador supplied by Blue
Horizon Organic Seafood. California law prohibits the retailer
from marketing any seafood as organic until standards are
finalized for the protein by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's National Organic Standards Program. However, Blue
Horizon's product is certified organic by German certifier
Despite sourcing challenges and the current economic
environment, New Leaf continues to prosper from its focus on
natural and sustainable food offerings. In early March, it is
moving one of its stores in Santa Cruz, Calif., which was 7,600
square feet, to a new location and tripling its footprint to
20,000 square feet.
Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary,