By Christine Blank, SeafoodSource contributing editor
Published on 29 July, 2010
Although a few Florida media outlets reported this week that Walmart and Whole Foods Market stores in the state had stopped selling fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, that is not the case, the retailers told SeafoodSource on Thursday.
The flap came about after a Wednesday meeting of the Florida Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force. At the meeting, a charter boat captain said that he had heard that Walmart stopped selling fresh seafood in its Florida stores because of a lack of consumer demand due to the oil spill.
In reality, Walmart has removed fresh seafood counters from a "few" of its Supercenter stores in Florida over the past year, according to Daniel Morales, a Walmart spokesperson.
"We are still carrying fresh seafood in nearly all of our stores," he explained. "In places where we have removed our seafood counters, we still carry the same assortment of frozen seafood."
Walmart opted to remove fresh seafood counters at certain stores because they were not paying off.
"They were studying the metrics of it for a long time prior to the oil spill," said Nelson Mongiovi, director of marketing for Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "It is a demographic situation. If the demand was there, they would have it."
Walmart had been reviewing each store's fresh seafood departments over the past year.
"Like every product we carry on the shelves, we are continuously evaluating customer feedback [on fresh seafood]. These decisions are done on a store-by-store basis," said Morales.
In addition, Walmart remains committed to its Florida seafood suppliers, according to Morales. However, it is not clear how much seafood from Florida and the Gulf of Mexico Walmart carries.
"We don't sell much of our fresh product to them anyway. I don't know any of our suppliers that sell to them," said Bob Jones, executive director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association in Tallahassee, Fla.
Still, the Walmart news, reported by the Palm Beach Post and other Florida newspapers, comes at a difficult time for Florida's fishing and seafood industries. Some consumers could tie the retailer's move away from fresh seafood in some of its stores to the oil spill, said Mongiovi.
"The timing is unfortunate. Their business decision came out at a time when people are worried about Florida seafood anyway," he explained. "We would like them to put seafood back out, but if the demographics don't match the product mix, we understand."
A few Florida media outlets also reported this week that Whole Foods' Florida stores were not selling seafood from the Gulf, but it is also untrue.
"Whole Foods Market is not selling seafood from the federally closed areas" in the Gulf, said Libba Letton, a Whole Foods spokesperson. "Meanwhile, we continue to offer a variety of fresh Gulf fish from areas that are still open to fishing."