GOAL 2014: Retailers: Sustainability a ‘collective responsibility’

By

James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
October 9, 2014

A roundtable of prominent global seafood retailers concluded that a collaborative approach to sustainable aquaculture is needed to drive improvements toward responsible production.

Representatives from Red Lobster, Wegmans, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons and Lyons Seafood spoke at the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s (GAA) Global Outlook for Aquaculture Leadership (GOAL) conference on Thursday in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Social welfare, one of the dominant topics of the conference, can be vetted by a simplistic approach, said Carl Salamone, VP-seafood for U.S. retailer Wegmans. When Salamone visits new suppliers and aquaculture plants, which he began doing 10 years ago, he insists on meeting the employees.

“We insist on meeting in the cafeteria, not executive board rooms,” he said. “And what I’ve seen is very positive.”

Patrick Blow, aquaculture advisor for UK retailer Marks & Spencer, says labor abuses are different in different parts of the world. “We have problems even in Scotland in our supply chain,” he said. “We have to recognize that. What’s not acceptable to us is perfectly acceptable in other parts of the world. We need to let suppliers understand what’s not acceptable to us.”

Huw Thomas of UK retailer Morrisons said “each actor has a part to play,” referring to retailers, suppliers, governments and non-governmental organizations, or NGOs. “It’s a collective responsibility,” added Joe Zhou, senior director of seafood procurement for Red Lobster, the world’s largest seafood restaurant chain, which separated from Darden Restaurants just a few months ago. “It’s a sign of maturity in the industry.”

The most poignant comment of the session came from a member of the audience. U.S. National Fisheries Institute President John Connelly said the job of setting eco-label benchmarks should be driven by big retailers and restaurant operations, the very people sitting on the state. Either big seafood buyers agree on benchmarking standards, “or we will be talking about the same things in three years,” he said. Connelly’s comments were met with a round of applause.

The conversation steered toward disease management, another dominant topic of the conference. Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS) in shrimp has not only hampered supplies but has driven up the cost of shrimp significantly.

“EMS enforced our understanding of the reality that this is going to be part of our lives,” said Zhou, referring to aquaculture diseases. “We have always followed a strategy of geographical diversification. EMS affected everyone in terms of price, but we have not been that negatively impacted as far as supply.”

Communicating shrimp price increases to consumers is a difficult task. Salamone said Wegmans wrote a letter to its customer base explaining the reasons their shrimp was costing so much more.

“We told customers not necessarily what EMS was, but how it could affect their shrimp purchases,” he said. “Our customers thanked us for telling us what it was doing to prices. Did we lose customers? Not many.”

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