Nissui President and CEO Shingo Hamada diversifying his company’s sustainability approach
Japan’s seafood industry is rapidly changing. For example, a 2020 fisheries law significantly changed guidance around effective practices in fisheries management. Japanese producers and harvesters, meanwhile, are increasingly adopting measures to provide assurances of responsible supply geared both toward the domestic market – where consumer interest in sustainable seafood is growing – and the export market, with the latter market experiencing a swift upsurge as domestic consumption has dwindled.
Nissui Corp. has been a leader in the Japanese fishing industry for over 100 years. As it looks to the future, the company is utilizing its strengths to tackle these multifaceted issues, such as the sustainable use of marine resources and ensuring human rights throughout the supply chain, under its mission of "creating a healthier, more sustainable future through innovative food solutions.” Shingo Hamada, the president and CEO of Nissui, talked in detail with SeafoodSource about the company's sustainability activities.
Hamada joined Nissui, which at the time was Nippon Suisan Kaisha, Ltd., in 1983. He started in research and held successive roles in food production, eventually heading up the food production division. He has held an executive role since 2014 and assumed the CEO position in 2021.
This is the second in a series of five Seafood2030 interviews focused on exploring the growing influence of sustainable practices and responsible management on Japanese seafood production, completed in conjunction with Seafood Legacy, which provided assistance with translation. Founded in 2015, Seafood Legacy is a nonprofit organization offering sustainable seafood consulting and platforming services to Japanese seafood businesses and government entities.
Seafood2030 has sustainability resources translated into Japanese available for companies here.
SeafoodSource: How did Nissui grew into the company it is today?
Hamada: Nissui Corporation was founded in 1911 in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and started out in the trawling business. We developed various related businesses, such as the processing and sales of fishery products of various kinds, including those from trawling, as well as a network of refrigerated warehouses. After being broken up under the wartime economy, the company was reconstituted as Nippon Suisan Kaisha to operate fishing and related businesses in 1945.
We then expanded our operations during the economic boom years, but restrictions on exclusive economic zones by coastal countries forced us to gradually withdraw from deep-sea fisheries, leading to a period of sluggish business. However, through restructuring in the late 1990s and 2000s and improved access to global fishery resources, we have been growing our business once again.
Our current businesses include seafood products, food, and fine chemicals. In 2022, we underwent a corporate rebranding while making it our mission to create a healthier, more sustainable future through innovative food solutions. We formulated our long-term vision, “Good Foods 2030,” to be “a leading company that delivers friendly foods for people and the earth” by 2030. To get beyond fisheries and put our focus on food, we changed our name to Nissui Corporation.
SeafoodSource: When did Nissui begin to increase its engagement with the sustainability movement?
Hamada: In the 2000s, Nissui Group considered the business objective of [contributing to society by] procuring seafood products and providing them to customers around the world. However, by the middle 2010s, due to changes in the business environment, we started to consider positioning CSR [corporate social responsibility] as the foundation of our business.
As a result, we decided to incorporate CSR for the first time into our medium-term business plan. In 2016, we published our CSR action statement and identified three material factors:
· Preserve the bountiful sea and promote the sustainable utilization of marine resources and their procurement
· Contribute to a healthy lifestyle with food safety and security
· Aim to be a company where diverse human capital plays an important role in addressing the social agenda
One difficult initiative for us was our “Survey on the status of marine resources procured by the Nissui Groups.” For this survey, it took us about a year to collect, organize, and analyze detailed data on seafood products that we deal with from our group companies inside and outside Japan. This was probably the first time worldwide for a company in our line of business to [conduct] a survey like this, and we got a great response when the survey results were presented at the SeaBOS CEO conference.
SeafoodSource: What were some of the outcomes stemming from the internal survey and review?
Hamada: The first survey was an unprecedented effort, so we conducted the survey and assessment entirely in-house. There was a challenge when it came to the accuracy of assessment and survey scope because we took into account the significance of [understanding] the overall picture first. In the second survey, we secured the impartiality of a third party by employing analysis and assessment by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), instead of doing the assessment in-house. We also added fish oil and fishmeal for mixed feeds at their preprocessed weights, expanding the scope of the study.
According to SFP’s analysis, 71 percent of our procurement in 2020 was in the categories “well-managed” or “managed resources,” but 8 percent of resources were in need of improvement. The other 21 percent of resources were “undetermined.”
This survey enabled us to get a high-level understanding of where Nissui Group’s challenges lay within the context of our global fishery product procurement. For example, it highlighted procurement from ocean regions where resource assessment data was lacking with regard to small pelagics that provide raw materials for mixed feeds. It also established the inclusion of fish species classified as endangered by the IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature].
In response to these results, we have now begun collecting information through our participation in the Global Roundtable on Marine Ingredients, and we also formulated a procurement policy regarding endangered species in 2022. Based on this policy, we have established measures with regard to fish species at particularly high risk of extinction and verified their validity through dialogue with third parties, such as NGOs, academia, and other research institutions, involved in marine resource conservation.
SeafoodSource: Nissui is engaging in a broad range of issues beyond fishery resource sustainability and ocean plastics. How are these efforts contributing to its organizational and business development?
Hamada: For us, the [goals of] “create a healthier, more sustainable future through innovative food solutions,” as held by our new mission formulated in 2022, and being “a leading company that delivers friendly foods for peopls and the Earth,” as expressed by our long-term vision, are not just a matter of environmentally friendly food. We aim to deliver food in a way that also achieves respect for human rights in our supply chain, as well as stakeholder well-being. We believe these efforts will generate value in the four areas of environment, society, human capital, and economics, leading to increased corporate value. Furthermore, our active approach toward resolving various social issues will lead to increased employee engagement.
SeafoodSource: What does that look like in terms of improving Nissui’s products and supply chain transparency?
Hamada: Nissui Group’s quality assurance charter stipulates that we will provide customers with accurate, easy-to-understand information on our products, such as manufacturing processes, origins and histories of raw materials, nutritional composition, and allergen information. Not only will these disclosures be helpful to customers in selecting products, they will also provide peace of mind by dispelling questions and concerns about safety, leading, in turn, to greater brand credibility.
Moreover, understanding and disclosing information on health and nutrition and supply chain sustainability also differentiates fishery products. As an example, in joint research with universities and research institutions, we found that intake of protein derived from Alaska pollock results in muscle gain. We have now named this Alaska pollock protein “Sokkin Tanpaku” [“fast muscle protein”] and, in [the case of] fishcakes and other products made with Alaska pollock surimi, we communicate this to customers by way of a unique logo, helping to meet consumer health needs.
Getting a quantitative understanding of upstream-to-downstream supply chain information, such as human rights risks and environmental impacts, is a difficult task, but if you can show [consumers], for example, that the carbon footprint of fishery products is low compared to that of other proteins, then you should be able to achieve further differentiation.
We also actively make disclosures to stakeholders regarding sustainability itself through our website, our sustainability reports, and the like.
SeafoodSource: Nissui collaborates with many sustainability-focused organizations, including SeaBOS, the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, and Seafood Legacy, and the company works with products certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, the Marine Stewardship Council and Best Aquaculture Practices. Why are you engaging so enthusiastically with these organizations?
Hamada: One of the three material factors that we identified in 2016 – “Preserve the bountiful sea and promote the sustainable utilization of marine resources and their procurement” – is a special theme for us, as Nissui Group’s business is highly dependent on natural capital, and we feel that we should take on greater responsibility in our efforts. We also strongly believe that working toward sustainability is crucial to Nissui Group’s future growth. We still face numerous challenges, and there are many tasks that we cannot handle fully, but we will strive toward solutions with the cooperation of our stakeholders.
SeafoodSource: Are there economic benefits to engagement with sustainability?
Hamada: Tradeoffs do arise. The short term … is the most difficult aspect of moving forward with engagement. I think it is important not to be shortsighted but to think from the medium- to long-term perspective. That is because I believe our engagement with sustainability will generate value in the four areas of environment, society, human capital, and economics, leading to increased corporate value.
SeafoodSource: What are the sustainability issues that will be of particular emphasis for Nissui in the future, and how are you addressing them?
Hamada: Nissui will place particular emphasis on initiatives in the areas of climate change, human rights in our supply chain, and marine biodiversity. Additionally, we have positioned health need solutions as an important theme for Nissui Group’s medium- to long-term growth. Harnessing our research and development capabilities to help meet the health needs of consumers will create social value while also leading to the creation of economic value in the form of increased revenue through business growth.
Regarding the development of Nissui Group as a whole, we have for some time been holding the semiannual Nissui Global Links Conference (NGLC), where our group companies from around the world come together to engage in a lively discussion regarding various themes, including sustainability issues. This year, we established a new logo for Nissui Global Links, which represents the interconnectedness of Nissui Group companies spanning the globe. The new logo will increase the sense of unity and identification with our mission and vision at the global level, further advancing our efforts toward sustainability.
SeafoodSource: Does the company’s investment in sustainability resonate with international markets as much as it does in Japan’s domestic market?
Hamada: People’s needs for food, such as good taste, health, and environmental friendliness for a sustainable future, are becoming more diverse. We aim to be a leader as we expand globally while pursuing new possibilities, creating new foods that nourish the mind and body as well as new foods that resolve social issues. Cooperation of stakeholders around the world is essential for the growth of Nissui Group and the realization of a sustainable future, so we look forward to working with you in the time to come.
Photo courtesy of Nissui