Whole Foods Market recently hosted a panel discussion on sustainable seafood geared toward consumers, and it was such a success that the United States’ largest natural-foods retailer plans to hold similar in-store events in the near future.
Held on Tuesday, “The Consumer’s Conflict: Fishing for Answers” was attended by 75 Seattle-area consumers, industry members and food bloggers, among others. The goal of the event was to create an open discussion and debate around some of the most important issues related to food, including the local and global impact of producing and eating it.
“We really understand the challenges around embracing sustainability and what the commitment is and when you start putting sustainable rankings in your seafood counter. Within that, a lot of the customers are confused at this point about sustainability and how to embrace it,” said Mark Curran, senior seafood coordinator for Whole Foods Pacific Northwest region. Consumers “are wondering if it’s anything more than just marketing, and we’re trying to highlight that it is more than that. It’s a tool they can use to be more informed and make better choices.”
“I think people wanted to talk more,” added Curran. “There’s so much interest and so much misinformation. The room was abuzz. We could have gone on for another couple hours talking about all of the challenges and all of the good things happening around the sustainability movement.”
Panelists included Dr. Trevor Branch, assistant professor at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences; Carrie Brownstein, Whole Foods’ seafood quality standards coordinator; Susan Marks, senior partnership manager for the major seafood buyer program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium; Becky Selengut, chef, culinary instructor, blogger and author; and Tony Washines, Yakama elder and lifelong fishermen.
Curran said Whole Foods has plans to hold in-store events aimed at the similar goal of educating consumers on sustainability.
“I think we’re finding consumers are overwhelmed by choices and eco-labels, and I think its causing a lot of customers to pull back from buying seafood,” said Curran. “We haven’t solved the whole problem, but we’re making it easier.”