Bringing clarity to foodservice

Determining what seafood is and isn’t sustainable and consequently what should and shouldn’t be put on a menu has long been a major barrier for busy professional kitchens wanting to take a more responsible approach to sourcing. Their confusion is in no way eased by the plethora of sustainability guides and eco-labels in the marketplace.

This week, the first edition of the “Safely Sourced Seafood List,” compiled by leading U.K. seafood supplier M&J Seafood will be distributed to those customers that have signed up to receive it. But rather than add to their sustainability bewilderment, this list — billed by the company as a “one-stop solution” — will offer more than 300 of its product lines that caterers can be confident are safe to serve.

“We want to get more people, more restaurants, more schools, more hospitals etc. on the sustainable journey,” explained Mike Berthet, M&J’s director of fish and seafood. “We know sustainability is a complicated subject, but following two year’s work we have arrived at a point where we have established an equitable level of products — SKUs (stock keeping units) and species — to enable any chef to make up a menu consisting of safe seafood.”

The list will be presented in a spreadsheet format with several tabs to enable searches under just fresh only, frozen only and delicatessen as well as by product code.

Prototypes and early drafts have already been used and contributed to by a handful of M&J’s customers, including the government’s House of Commons and the Geronimo Inns and Brasserie Blanc chains.

But why call it a “safe” list rather than a “sustainable” one? The answer lies in the detail. M&J’s list comprises only wild and farmed seafood rated 1 to 3 by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) or certified sustainable to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) environmental standard. The aim is that caterers can make easy product choices, confident that the products they are buying present a low risk to the marine environment.

“We have been doing this with a number of our customers for the past two years and we felt if we could formalize it into an easy manageable list for chefs to choose from, then maybe that would be the catalyst to encourage more participation,” said Berthet.

The move echoes the Food Vision policy introduced by Sustain and the London Organising Committee of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), which required all wild fish supplied to the games to be rated MCS 1 or 2 or alternatively MSC-certified. In the case of farmed fish, Food Vision said species with an MCS 3 rating could be used.

What the games did was set a precedent, said Berthet. It used criteria that didn’t deter caterers from joining the sustainable journey by severely limiting the number of seafood SKUs and species they could use; it did the reverse and encouraged them.

“You’re never going to please all of the people all of the time. But you’ve got to put your sword in the sand somewhere and say, ‘that’s what we’ll stand for and that’s how we’ll get more foodservice outlets on the sustainable journey.’ That’s the view that I have taken with the list. I looked at how many SKUs and how many species we could put together that would fit that criteria to see if there was enough to encourage all our customers to get on the sustainable journey, and there is.”

Compilation of the list was complicated, Berthet said. Nevertheless, the final adjustments were made last week following a last review by the MCS that along with the MSC partnered on the project. It comprises 37 species and 330 SKUs, including 119 fresh fish SKUs, 200 frozen SKUs plus some delicatessen.

“This shows anybody — from a Michelin-star chef to a fish and chip shop — that they can now put a safe menu together and start become more sustainable if they’re not already at that juncture,” said Berthet.

“As an ex-chef, I can confidently say there is something for everybody at every level of foodservice on the list, so there really is no excuse for not getting on the journey. And it is a journey because chefs have printed menus that can sometimes run for six months or even longer, so it may take a year for this sustainability vehicle to well and truly affect the marketplace.”

The list will be updated by M&J on a monthly basis and it will factor in MCS’ six monthly updates. To further underline its integrity it will also undergo an annual third-party traceability audit, Berthet said.


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