Waitrose

Sustainability is top of mind for Jeremy Langley, specialist seafood buyer at Waitrose. The upscale British retailer, which carries about 1,500 different seafood products, kick started its sustainable seafood efforts in the mid-1990s, drawing up a “catch-to-consumer” four-point scheme that remains the anchor of its seafood purchasing policy today. Since 1996, about 20 species, including dogfish and European ling and hake, have been dropped from the chain’s shelves after failing to meet its sustainable seafood criteria. A ban on swordfish was announced earlier this month.

Partos: Waitrose sources only seafood from well managed fisheries that meet the retailer’s sustainable seafood criteria. Explain the four-point policy.

Langley: We are very careful about the fish we now sell. As a responsible retailer, we should do all the sustainability and traceability work for the consumer. Firstly the fish we sell must be a species that is not regarded as threatened or endangered and secondly the fish must be caught from a well managed fishery with scientifically based quotas. For the third point, the fish must be caught using the most environmentally responsible fishing methods possible, appropriate to the species. Practically this means most of our fish is line caught, or if trawled it is using Danish seine techniques and not beam or pair trawling. Finally, the fish must be fully traceable from catch to consumer, so we know which series of boats or area of ocean it came from.

Can industry marry commercial and sustainable interests?

Any moves toward sustainable supply chain takes a lot of hard work and commitment from fishermen. In a sustainable supply chain, everyone has to make a fair living out of it. We foster long-term relationships. I would prefer to remain loyal to our fishermen, and it works both ways. Many of the fisheries that were supplying us in 1996 are still doing so today.

Where does the Marine Stewardship Council certification fit into Waitrose’s policy?

We stock at least 25 MSC-accredited fish lines, using eight or so species, which are both fresh and pre-packed. These include Waitrose’s own brand salmon, mackerel, hake, cockles, lobster and herring and MSC South African hake that replaced our European hake line. There are some MSC fisheries that we don’t stock, such as the MSC New Zealand hoki fishery, which conducts bottom trawling, because it doesn’t meet our four-point policy, which includes fishing methods.

The debate surrounding the pros and cons of fish farming is intensifying. What’s your vision?

It is vitally important to investigate the impact on the environment. Problems arise when waste falls to the seabed, as do stocks intensity. In the case of salmon, for example, high tidal flow sites, situated away from wild salmon rivers, ensure that the strong flows sweep the waste away. If farmed in the right environment, fish tend to be healthy and the need for treatment is reduced. About 50 percent of [the seafood Waitrose sells is] farmed. About one in four purchases are salmon, and most of that will be farmed. All of our salmon hails from known and approved farms that meet our own standards.

Are consumers willing to pay more for sustainable seafood?

Waitrose has 217 stores in total, of which 209 have fish counters. And while we have a 4 percent share of the retail market overall, by offering a sustainable source of fish we have 10 percent market share for fresh fish. Responsibly sourced fish is slightly more expensive, but not much more. Do you think it is better to pay a little bit more for fish today, or to pay a lot more later on?

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