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Distributor Profile: Central Coast trims the ‘red’
California company sets example for sustainable distributors
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
"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
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
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