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What's In Store: Local label

Hannaford's sustainable seafood policy touts connection to the Gulf of Maine

Hannaford has committed to only sourcing from
    fisheries with sustainability plans. - Photo courtesy of Hannaford
Christine Blank
June 01, 2010

Consumers are increasingly seeking more information on the food they eat and where it is coming from. As a result, they are responding positively to retailers' sustainable seafood programs, including a recently launched initiative from Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford. In March, the Delhaize Group-owned grocery chain, which operates more than 170 stores in the Northeast, committed to only selling seafood from fisheries managed by "competent authorities" administering sustainable management plans. The retailer's seafood suppliers must demonstrate ways they are contributing to the improvement of seafood sustainability by March 2011.

"Customers have an increased expectation about where their food is coming from. And a growing number are concerned about the environment. We are in it for the long haul, to build a structure that can respond to that," says Michael Norton, spokesman for Hannaford.

While other Delhaize-owned chains, including Food Lion and Sweetbay Supermarket, have implemented sustainable seafood goals, Hannaford has been more public about its efforts.

"We are in Portland, a fishing community where we have a lot of local product. We may have done a little more [publicly] out of the gate, to support the local economy," says George Parmenter, corporate social responsibility manager for Hannaford.

"Part of Hannaford's policy is sourcing local whenever possible, as well as sourcing products when they are in season. We will be helping them identify local 
products," says Jen Levin, sustainable seafood program manager for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) in Portland.

Hannaford is working with GMRI to review its suppliers' sustainability efforts. GMRI's international research network helps identify sustainable seafood from around the world. Farmed seafood from outside the Gulf of Maine region 
must be Best Aquaculture Practices-certified, according to the new policy. BAP standards were created by the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) of St. Louis.

Hannaford is the first retailer to work with GMRI, which plans to launch a Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested program this month. "We will be engaging harvesters, processors and retailers to ensure products meet criteria around sustainability," says Levin. Once the program gets underway, seafood products with the Gulf of Maine Responsibly 
Harvested label will likely be in other grocery stores and fish markets by September.

"It [the label] will be a helpful tool in enabling customers to identify local and sustainable products. It will give consumers the extra assurance, and they can feel good about buying these products," says Levin.

The science-based labeling program's aim is for additional suppliers, retailers and other businesses to adopt sustainability initiatives. "Our ultimate goal is to reward responsible practices. When the marketplace rewards those responsible practices, it motivates even better behavior [by suppliers and harvesters]," says Levin. GMRI aims to work with more fishermen and retailers, along with restaurants, in the future.

Meanwhile, seafood vendors are working hand-in-hand with Hannaford on traceability. "Many of the suppliers we have in-house already have traceability systems. We are not finding people who are surprised by this," says Parmenter.

"Without traceability, you can't back up claims about sustainable harvest or sustainable seafood," adds Levin.

In addition, many of Hannaford's suppliers have already established seafood sustainability initiatives. "It was encouraging to see that many had sustainability folks on staff and many sit on the boards of GAA and other organizations," says Parmenter.

Most of Hannaford's seafood vendors have provided the chain with the re-
quired first round of 
documentation, explaining their sustainability and traceability policies. "GMRI is helping us assess information from suppliers. Then, we are going back for another round of documentation," says Parmenter.

For suppliers that do not have documentation on sustainability, Hannaford will cooperate with them. "We are asking them for an action plan on how we are going to get there," says Parmenter.

Hannaford shoppers are responding positively to the sustainability program, even though a labeling program is not in place in its stores. "We were pleasantly surprised that, when 
we put a simple mention on Facebook and Twitter, we immediately got a large number of positive comments," says Norton.

Hannaford has also showcased its sustainability policy in its circulars, on the back of its receipts, and on its Web site. It will not place signage next to its fresh seafood until after Hannaford finalizes its vendors' sustainability policies by next March.

Across many different food categories in 
Hannaford stores, shoppers want more health and nutrition data, so they can make good choices. For example, when the retailer released its own nutritional guidelines, called Guiding Stars, its shoppers sent in fan mail about the program. "Consumers are saying, 'Give the information. Please tell me so I can make the choice,'" says Norton.

 

Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla.

 

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