Walmart, Sysco talk sourcing seafood in the sustainable age

Published on
March 5, 2016

A lot goes into deciding what kind of seafood offerings should be featured on a given retailer’s shelves. After all, the search for quality products is a process, and a meticulous one at that – buyers must examine all angles, from sustainability and traceability to cost and ethics. They must consider every person and entity occupying the supply chain and crucially, every person who stands at the chain’s end.

Ultimately, it’s those last links on the chain – the consumers – who are driving sourcing decisions for many major retailers across the United States and around the world. And today’s consumers – as well as the retailers who source products for them – are getting more and more particular about the kind of seafood they’re looking to buy...

Without a trace
It was the customers and the communities across the United States that Walmart had in mind, for example, when it first made a hefty commitment to American renewal three years ago, vowing to spend an additional USD 250 billion (EUR 230.7 billion) on U.S.-manufactured products by 2023.

The focus of the commitment remains as such heading into 2016 – it’s still the customers and their evolving desire for sustainable, local products driving much of Walmart’s subsequent sourcing decisions. With many of the retailer’s clientele “increasingly asking for traceability in the supply chain, especially in food [and seafood],” Walmart has also been looking to supply products from companies that offer traceability solutions, explained Cindi Marsiglio, Vice President of U.S. Manufacturing for Walmart.

“Where their products come from, drives their purchasing decisions,” said Marsiglio, regarding customer purchasing trends.
Walmart isn’t the only retailer picking up on the traceability trend, either. Price Chopper – a grocery chain based out of Schenectady, New York – requires its trade partners to be on board with supply chain transparency by signing up for Trace Register, a digital traceability platform. This “[ensures] that all product can be traced directly to the source,” according to Anthony R. Snow, Director of Seafood Merchandising for Price Chopper.

Transparency is about more than just the ‘where’ for Price Chopper – the grocer also values certainty when it comes to ‘what’ exactly it’s selling, too. “Price Chopper places paramount importance on the accurate labeling of its seafood so you can be confident that species substitutions do not occur,” noted Snow. By employing technological services from a DNA testing agency (Therion International, LLC, in this case), Price Chopper randomly tests its fish fillets to “validate the species of our seafood which in turn allows us to offer sound assurances to our customers that they are getting what they are paying for,” said Snow.

Sustainably sourced, easy to afford
Alongside traceability and transparency, cost and sustainability continue to have significant sway with key seafood buyers.
“Customers are looking for a wide variety of fresh and frozen seafood at a reasonable price,” said Price Chopper’s Snow.
Walmart’s American renewal initiative puts heavy stock in sustainability and affordability – qualities that are consistently top-of-mind for modern consumers. Therefore, when the retailer’s seafood buyers, such as Catherine Johnson, consider sourcing products from new suppliers, they start by looking at these criteria.

“In an effort to provide sustainable seafood to our customers, Walmart is committed to sustainably sourcing all fresh and frozen, farmed and wild seafood, meeting our customers’ expectations for the best seafood options at the best price,” said Johnson.

“Our customers count on Walmart to deliver affordable products in a way that is sustainable for people and for the planet," she continued. "To meet those needs, we work with suppliers to improve the sustainability of the products we sell, all along the supply chain.”

Companies of various sizes and scales can achieve this aim when looking to partner with Walmart under its American renewal initiative, according to Marsiglio: “We certainly partner with the large scale companies. But then we have your companies [that are] mid-sized, with great quality products (first and foremost), innovation in what they are doing…responsible in their supply chain. Those are some of the qualities that we look for in a [processor]. But of course you can be of all sizes and scale to work with Walmart.”

By way of sourcing products from companies that embrace transparency and sustainability, and do so in an affordable fashion – Walmart gets closer to its ultimate goal: “We want to be providing our customers across the globe with safe, affordable and sustainable food. It is our belief that by supporting transparency, partnerships and continuous improvement, we will be able to provide safe, affordable and sustainable seafood to our customers now and in years to come,” concluded Johnson.

Quality and social assurances
Retailers of various sizes and statures are always looking for ways to assure quality in the products their suppliers source and integrity in the suppliers themselves.

“As a global leader in the foodservice distribution business, our purchasing practices must focus on providing value to our customers, ensuring the safety of the products we distribute, relying upon sustainable resources, being exemplary social and environmental stewards and demonstrating integrity,” said Eric Buckner, Senior Director for Seafood for major wholesaler Sysco.

“Our vision at Sysco is to be our customers most valued and trusted business partner. You achieve that by doing the right thing,” added Buckner. “Successful relationships in the seafood industry are founded upon trust. Our customers expect wholesome products that come from sources who operate with integrity. In the global seafood business, integrity is many times the most important factor.”

Sysco has established a suite of guidelines to guarantee supplier integrity, noted Buckner, which includes a Quality Assurance program, Supplier Audit programs and Supplier Code of Conduct.

Most retailers also rely on third-party certification to establish product and business integrity with potential partners. Price Chopper, for one, looks for trade partners that possess certification from either the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) program; Safe Quality Food (SQF) standards and the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety are also distinctions the retailer looks for in its ideal supplier partner. Walmart similarly values MSC and BAP certification among its suppliers, or looks to source from companies that are engaging in a Fishery Improvement Project.

The bottom line is clear: By a myriad of methods, checks and balances, retailers are determined to deliver quality products from quality sources to quality people. “Although we don't catch our seafood ourselves, we make sure those who catch it for us supply only the best,” concluded Snow on behalf of Price Chopper.

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