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What's in Store: The color of choice

Metcalfe's adopts FishWise program for its seafood purchases

Metcalfe's uses tags that correspond to the FishWise
    and Seafood Watch list. - Photos courtesy of Metcalfe's Markets
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 says.

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 of the 
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 answer questions.

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 Metcalfe's.

"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 
the seafood sustainability program and the Food Miles program," says Caplan.

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 shrimp.

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 categories," 
says Caplan.


Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in Portland, Maine

November 2011 - SeaFood Business 


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