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What's in Store: The color of choice
Metcalfe's adopts FishWise program for its seafood purchases
By Christine Blank
November 01, 2010
While seafood sustainability programs are all the rage for
large retail chains it is not as easy for a small, independent
operator to overhaul its seafood-buying practices.
Metcalfe's Markets, a two-store retailer in Madison, Wis.,
has done just that with the launch of its sustainability
program in mid-September. "Both the time and expense is large.
[However] I assume we have had increased seafood sales and that
the sales will continue to grow," says Leah Caplan, Metcalfe's
executive chef and local food liaison.
The new FishWise program, which rates seafood by green,
yellow and red display tags, was a natural fit for Metcalfe's.
The company is 100 percent wind-powered and sports a Food Miles
program that lists the number of miles products travel to get
to its stores. The retailer is also a big buyer of local foods.
"[Seafood sustainability] is the largest program we have taken
on in a single step," she says.
Caplan first spent several months researching the multitude
of sustainable seafood certification programs available. "It is
quite confusing and difficult to moderate. We chose FishWise
largely because of their affiliation with the Monterey Bay
Aquarium program and their work with large chains. Also, they
were willing to work with just a two-store company," she
Metcalfe's executives then provided FishWise a comprehensive
list of all the species the stores carry throughout the year.
"They work directly with our suppliers to get answers to some
questions we couldn't," says Caplan. The cooperative
process between FishWise and Metcalfe's since the program began
has included three weekly phone calls to work out issues and
Metcalfe's seafood staff has also gone though FishWise
training and are educating customers about the color-coded
labels and issues surrounding sustainability.
"They have taught us a great deal about sustainable seafood,
and we look forward to sharing this knowledge with our
customers, to help them make informed decisions when purchasing
seafood," says Tim Metcalfe, president and co-owner of
"We have the pictures of the different harvest methods
posted on signs. That is the thing that most people know the
least about," says Caplan.
Seafood in the fresh case has labels that are green, yellow
or red. Red signifies unsustainable seafood choices, and
Metcalfe's has eliminated three such species that the FishWise
program deems unsustainable: skate, monkfish and shark. Out of
around 100 varieties of seafood that Metcalfe's routinely
carries, less than a quarter of them are on the red list, and
the retailer is working to eliminate them. Similar to the MBA's
Seafood Watch program, a green label signifies the best
sustainable choices, and the yellow label is for products that
are good alternatives, says Caplan.
"If [customers] weren't aware that an item was
unsustainable, then they might trade it for something that is
sustainable," says Caplan.
Even though it is a small retailer, Metcalfe's is marketing
the sustainable seafood program using a variety of avenues. To
kick off the
program, the retailer ran a full-page ad in Madison magazine, paid for radio spots, and is featuring the
program and sustainable seafood in its weekly circular. "Now,
when we are running ads, we are focusing on just the green
items," says Caplan. Metcalfe's is also conducting demos of
sustainable seafood, using the opportunity to educate shoppers
about the new program.
Despite the work and time involved in setting up the
FishWise program, it is relatively simple to run, says Caplan.
"Now, when we get an invoice from our main supplier, the fish
rankings are already on the invoice. FishWise provided the
rankings to the supplier," says Caplan.
In addition, Metcalfe's is expanding its local and
sustainable seafood offerings.
"We are focusing our next ad on local, freshwater trout,
Great Lakes perch and Michigan whitefish. This combines
seafood sustainability program and the Food Miles program,"
Metcalfe's also recently added sustainable seafood
preparations to its selection of ready-to-heat seafood entrées.
"We added a Green Curry and Coconut-Crusted Tilapia, and some
Miso-Marinated Halibut," says Caplan. Other ready-to-heat items
include sautéed New Orleans gumbo, crab cakes and cooked
Metcalfe's executives will eventually expand the sustainable
seafood initiative to the retailer's frozen and grocery
departments, including canned seafood. "We are starting in our
service case and will extend it into our frozen seafood case.
Hopefully, we will eventually get it onto grocery store
shelves. I don't know the timeline. It is really the same
process, but I think it is harder to get green items in those
Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in Portland,