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Retail Profile: Planning for the future
Andronico's sustainability program nets sales gains, customer approval
By Lisa Duschene
November 01, 2008
The salmon at Andronico's is so popular that in the spring
and summer it sometimes accounts for 50 p e rcent of seafood
So in 2004, Andronico's, with eight stores in the San
Francisco Bay Area, took a big risk - along with its first
stand on sustainable seafood - when it decided to sell
exclusively wild salmon.
"We have chosen to be wild-only until we know the state of
farming salmon is better than now," says Reid Pomerantz, meat
and seafood buyer for the specialty retailer. Prompted by
widely publicized concerns about PCB levels in fish and
environmental effects of farming salmon, the company wanted to
be proactive, he says.
"We knew as a company from the owner on down that
[sustainability] is something we need to attack and address,"
Several grocery chains in recent years have announced
sustainable-seafood purchasing policies , including Whole
USA, Wal-Mart and Wegmans. Several more are
changing purchasing plans to reflect corporate views on
crafting formal sustainable-seafood buying
Sustainable seafood loosely translates to farmed and wild
seafood harvested without harm to its population, habitat or
any other species in its ecosystem. In lieu of an industrywide
standard translating that ethic into purchasing criteria,
conservation groups like the Monterey Bay Aquarium's (MBA)
Seafood Watch program designate certain fish as "green" (best
choice), "yellow" (good alternative), or "red" (avoid).
Nearly 40 percent of U.S. wholesalers, chain restaurants and
supermarkets stopped purchasing certain seafood products last
year due to environmental concerns, according to research in
May from the Seafood Choices Alliance, an association of
producers, buyers and conservationists advocating sustainable
Initially, when Andronico's went to sourcing exclusively
wild salmon, the price difference between farmed and wild
wasn't that great and the decision helped seafood sales. But by
2005, that price gap had widened and sales dropped 30 percent
by volume, according to Pomerantz. And while Andronico's made
up about 10 percent of that value with the higher price, it
also spent more
on labor butchering whole fish rather than
purchasing pinbone-out farmed salmon fillets.
"We recovered," says Pomerantz. "It's up to me to source
things that pique [customers'] interest and generate demand for
new items and some things that would take the place of what
people would do with salmon."
Pomerantz turned to Arctic char and farmed steelhead trout.
"Some of those things really picked up the slack and we did
quite well with those."
Three years ago at a trade show, Pomerantz met
representatives of Sustainable Fishery Advocates, a non-profit
organization founded in 2002. SFA's initial project is
FishWise, in Santa Cruz, Calif., a labeling system for grocers
that incorporates MBA's system.
Andronico's seafood labels now list the catch method and
Monterey Bay color rating, in addition to the required product
name, price, country of origin and whether the fish is farmed
Andronico's contracted with FishWise for guidance and
training help. Some FishWise partnerships with retailers
include signage, but Andronico's opted to incorporate the
FishWise logo into its existing sign program. Overall, the sign
cost was a significant investment, while the FishWise
investment was "minimal," says Pomerantz.
FishWise audited the product mix at several of t h e stores
against MBA's Seafood Watch guide and judged it to be about 50
percent "best" or "good" and 50 percent "avoid." With more
information on catch methods and origins, Pomerantz went to his
wholesalers and distributors and said: "This is my program. If
you want to continue to do business with me, this is what you
need to do."
Some vendors faded away while others worked extra hard to
find "green" or "yellow" sources of popular products like
swordfish and Pacific black cod, petrale sole and rock cod.
FishWise held training sessions for Andronico's department
managers and seafood department staff. By fall 2005,
Andronico's rolled out the labeling program to three of its
stores and then launched it to the other five in April
Now, popular "green" items include Alaska salmon, Alaska
halibut, trout, catfish and tilapia; popular "yellow" fish are
black cod, Pacific red snapper and petrale sole.
Shrimp was the most challenging "red" product and wasn't
solved until about eight months ago, says Pomerantz, when with
FishWise's help he found a source of domestic wild, Gulf of
Mexico shrimp covering eight to 10 SKUs of shrimp. To fill out
the range of sizes, Pomerantz turned to Ecuadoran farms that
are third-party certified organic, but are banned by California
law from being marketed as organic until there is a U.S.
Department of Agriculture organic label.
The ultimate goal, says Pomerantz, is for all products in
the case to be on the "green" list. Now, the product mix is 60
percent green, 30 percent yellow and 10 percent red, says
"There's a higher price to be paid and price to be passed
on," says Pomerantz. "Certainly, there are some [customers] who
have balked. The majority, because of whatever their own
beliefs are, are willing to pay for it."
Over time, the program has benefited seafood sales. "Not a
day goes by that we don't hear it at store level or get
comments through the customer service line about how much the
program is appreciated."
But this is just the beginning, says Pomerantz. "We're
really at the infancy stages. I know from a reality point of
view that we need to do this a little faster."
Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene lives in Bellefonte,