How waste reduction can lower seafood prices, propel consumption growth

Published on
March 26, 2018

With up to 35 percent of all seafood products going to waste before they can be consumed, the seafood supply chain has a real opportunity to make a far greater contribution to protein availability, panelists attested at a special conference session at the 2018 Seafood Expo North America event in Boston, Massachusetts.

The world’s population is forecasted to surpass nine billion people by 2050, and the global demand for food – particularly nutritious proteins – is expected to double. Experts have repeatedly said that to ensure food security, current production needs to increase between 50 to 100 percent within this timeframe and per capita calorie intake needs to be dramatically curbed in wealthier societies that consume too much. Another major barrier that needs to be overcome is waste, which is occurring at every stage of the food supply chain and at fluctuating levels, depending on the sophistication of each market.

Alex Ricarte, executive director of food care global marketing at Sealed Air Corp., highlighted that in volume terms, around 40,000 pounds, or 18.1 metric tons (MT) of seafood is wasted every 10 seconds and that if a single day’s lost products were put in one line, it would go around the world three times.

“It’s huge,” he said. “40,000 pounds every 10 seconds has a very big impact.”

Pete Pearson, director of food waste at WWF, added that with 90 percent of the world’s fisheries fully exploited, this level of waste is "unacceptable." Moreover, the statistics highlighted highly deficient supply chain systems.

“We are fishing everything and when you put that much pressure on a system at a planetary level, it’s really hard to stomach the waste," Pearson said. “What waste represents is a design flaw. We have to look at ways in which we could better design the system, because there’s leakage at all points of the supply chain. We have to create a system that doesn’t tolerate loss anymore. We are reaching planetary boundaries where we can no longer tolerate loss in the food system.”

Brad Nelson, vice president of global discipline leader for culinary at Marriott International, said that for these reasons the topic of food waste has become a top priority for the hotel group.

“A world without food waste would be a nirvana," Nelson said. “A pound of seafood is not the same as a pound of carrots; there is nothing more critical than to make sure we are getting full use out of it.”

Nelson said he believes that gains could be made simply by understanding “the whole product,” and added that from chef and end-user perspectives, it needs to be recognized that there is more to a fish than a beautiful fillet. 

“They need to look at it holistically and realize that seafood is an important protein source and is valuable in terms of the amount of time and effort it takes to catch or farm it, and that we shouldn’t just be looking at the best bits," Nelson said. “From a culinary perspective, we should look at ways to utilize all of the different components and really celebrate the whole animal. There are a lot more ceviches and other preparations that are happening that will enable use of more of the fish. That’s one of the key things that [Marriott] is focusing on as we address waste."

Chefs and restaurants also have an opportunity to take the pressure off traditional market favorite species such as salmon, swordfish, and halibut by “being creative” and putting more less exploited species on their menus, Nelson noted.

“Expanding the amount of seafood that’s actually consumed by using these other species and new preparations will be key elements for the next 20 years," he said. “A lot of it is down to education and getting a lot of chefs away from what they know and onto a broader range of species would allow us to fish more evenly and would allow us to take advantage of some of the species that are not as at-risk as others.”

Meanwhile, Sealed Air has conducted marketing research to try and understand why consumers are not eating more seafood, Ricarte said. From its consumer interviews, Ricarte said his firm found that price and the perception that seafood is expensive were the greatest barriers to increasing seafood consumption in the United States.

However, improving efficiency across the supply chain will generate substantial economic benefits that can translate all the way to the consumer in terms of better value and price, Ricarte said.

“Thirty-five percent of all seafood is currently lost or wasted, but if we start to be more effective in terms of the supply chain and reducing shrinkage, we can capitalize on the savings of reduced waste and turn those into savings for the retailer and reduce the price of products by 20 or 30 percent," he said. "If we can put seafood in a much better position by drastically reducing the price, it could then compete with other proteins. This is exactly the benefit that we can bring – we can reduce this 35 percent waste and transfer the benefits to the price and grow the demand."

Furthermore, at an industry level, Pearson said that in line with the “tremendous amount of work” that continues to be conducted on environmental certification and sustainability standards, there now needs to be a “marriage” of sustainable sourcing and zero tolerance to loss, as well as the means to measure it in seafood supply chains. 

“We should be bringing these concepts together because that is the only way that we can have a really efficient future,"he said. "We have to know where a fish came from in terms of sustainable sourcing, but then also not tolerate loss."

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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