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Distributor Profile: Central Coast trims the ‘red’

California company sets example for sustainable distributors

Property of SeaFood Business magazine
By April Forristall
November 01, 2008

Distributors play a critical role in the supply chain by delivering both product and information to retail and foodservice customers. Many have recently begun wearing a new hat for their customers, who are increasingly requesting sustainable seafood products. Central Coast Seafood in Atascadero, Calif., began a strong push toward sustainability more than two years ago.

"We felt [sustainability] was something that was likely going to be an issue down the road," says Giovanni Comin, Central Coast Seafood's president. "[Our message is] very well received by our customer base."

That's not to say that the company hasn't run into challenges. Some species such as farmed salmon are still difficult to substitute with a sustainable alternative, says Comin. Sourcing sustainable species has become time intensive.

"Different catch methods and origin are not always available for certain items; it's more of a challenge. We definitely spend more time sourcing product than we used to," says Comin.

While Central Coast hasn't lost any clients due to its sustainable sourcing program, it does get calls for species they no longer carry due to a "red-list" status for being unsustainable. Red lists are compiled by organizations like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and its Seafood Watch program (see Consumer B uying Guides, p. 38).

"We basically tell them we no longer carry that item and give them the reasons, but not every customer chooses to buy a substitute," says Comin.

The distributor publishes weekly market reports and a monthly newsletter, The Catch, to its entire customer base and delivers a printed copy with every order. The reports list about 50 percent of the company's fresh items and provide market information and sustainability records.

When clients call the company and are put on hold, instead of music, they hear recordings discussing sustainability that change every three to four weeks. Comin says often the first thing callers ask about when their call is answered is the sustainability recordings. He also conducts radio interviews to discuss sustainability issues.

Late last year the distributor partnered with FishWise, a nonprofit seafood consultancy, for advice and help to shape its sustainability program. The company follows the Seafood Watch list to decide which "red" species to avoid and substitutes those with "green" and "yellow" options. Central Coast signed a contract with FishWise in an effort to completely remove red species from its product list within three years, says Comin.

So far, the distributor removed 35 to 40 percent of "avoid" species from its product list.

FishWise Executive Director Tobia Aguirre says third-party verification provides an important affiliation for companies looking to promote their sustainable efforts.

"We help each other to a certain extent," explains Comin, who says he's in contact with the Santa Cruz, Calif.-based FishWise a couple of times a month, if not more.

"Based on our experience of working with about 25 distributors, Central Coast Seafood has really set the standard for a distributor that's making real commitments to sustainability and is using that to drive their business performance," says Aguirre.


Editorial Assistant April Forristall can be e-mailed at aforristall@divcom.com


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