Liu Jun, head of seafood sourcing at CRV-Olé, wants to see more MSC products in China

Published on
August 16, 2019

The Marine Stewardship Council recently launched the annual Sustainable Seafood Week in China, which will feature customer education campaigns in supermarkets across the country. 

Liu Jun, head of seafood sourcing at CRV-Olé, an upmarket Chinese supermarket chain and part of the China Resources Vanguard Group, a key state-owned retail conglomerate, talked to SeafoodSource about her company’s decision to involve itself in the MSC campaign.

SeafoodSource: When and how did you discover the MSC certification program?

Liu: We started in 2014, [doing] promotion events with MSC. Olé is a founding member of the CCFA [China Chain Store & Franchise Association] Sustainable Consumption Roundtable, which was one of the first cooperation partners in China for the MSC. 

SeafoodSource: Why do you stock MSC-certified products?

Liu: From a business perspective, MSC provides a more assured endorsement of th product. This means authoritative, third-party, global certification, representing the added-value and meaning of the wild, traceability and other attributes. [MSC certification] can help consumers to choose products more conveniently and quickly. From the point of view of category management, we not only hope that Olé is a business product, but a pure trading business. At the same time, as one of the original initiators and practitioners of MSC, we hope to promote MSC as one of the important principles of product access by introducing MSC products and promoting the concept of MSC. We hope to play a positive role in promoting the development of marine public welfare. This is why we have been promoting more public welfare projects [during] MSC Sustainable Seafood Week. We have raised charitable funds through the sale of MSC products to support poor students. We have also tried to contact WWF to cooperate on marine public welfare projects, but this has not been possible due to the difficulty of the operations.

SeafoodSource: Does the MSC certification on a seafood product increase the sales of that product?

Liu: Our MSC product marketing is increasing. MSC products’ impact has increased over the years, therefore sales of MSC certified products also increase. This is related to the active promotion of MSC in China. More channels and enterprises participate in the promotion of the MSC concept, and consumers will be more sympathetic to MSC's philosophy and products. Our high-quality, higher-value consumers not only believe that these products represent better quality, but also that Ole is actively taking a role in social responsibility.

SeafoodSource: How aware are your customers of MSC and what the certification means?

Liu: A lot of Olé customers understand and accept the MSC concept, and also known many certifications. We not only have a dedicated MSC knowledge display board in our daily sales, we also cooperate with MSC and CCFA to hold the MSC Sustainable Seafood week. 

All the stores in the country will carry out the promotion of MSC products and concepts.  during the event, each of our new stores will set up a special area for MSC, and the products will be presented in a concentrated manner, and will be spread to consumers through billboards, manuals, videos and other means. MSC will organize volunteers to recommend [its products] to consumers. We will also select some representative MSC products for promotion, and select several representative stores across the country as a model for the others. [We will] invite VIP customers to participate in the event, with the theme of sustainable seafood consumption. 

SeafoodSource: Do Chinese consumers care about the sustainability of the seafood they purchase?

Liu: More and more Chinese consumers pay attention to sustainability and environmental protection. Especially in recent years, [as the] government has put forward policies on environmental protection and sustainability. This influences the buying choices of our customers who seek environmentally friendly products. 

SeafoodSource: Is price or sustainability the biggest factor when they are purchasing seafood?

Liu: At this stage, most consumers are more concerned about prices. Sustainability will be a factor they consider, but this factor is taking up a larger share. They sometimes associate sustainability with food safety and product quality.

SeafoodSource: How have Chinese consumer attitudes towards sustainability been changing?

Liu: China’s consumption power has been rising. At the same time the concept of consumption is constantly being upgraded among consumers. They may be initially only concerned about price, but then they also care more about quality and now more and more people care about the environmental protection of products. Also, it’s worth pointing out that the younger generation born in 1980’s and 1990’s has gradually become the main force of consumption. They have a higher level of education and are much more aware of sustainable development. Alongside increasing advocacy by retailers and manufacturers, customers are increasingly focusing on product sustainability.

SeafoodSource: What are the main factors changing Chinese consumers' attitudes to sustainability in seafood?

Liu: Better income and better education and more government policy and promotions are the three main factors. Better education lets customers to more easily grasp the concept of sustainable development. Higher incomes allow consumers to consider factors other than price. Government’s energetic propaganda for sustainability creates a good atmosphere for sustainability. At the same time, this year MSC and other mechanisms are also playing a positive role.

SeafoodSource: Will you seek to stock more MSC-certified products?

Liu: To attract more MSC products has become an important principle in sourcing and in attracting [customers]. MSC has also become an important standard for educating consumers.  

SeafoodSource: Is there a Chinese sustainability standard or certification similar to MSC which you are also aware of?

Liu: Because China is a major cultivation [aquaculture] country, most seafood products are farmed and there isn’t a certification similar to MSC for the time being for wild seafood. China currently may now come up with more standards. For instance, for farmed pangasius and vannemei shrimp. As a retailer, we are now more concerned with food safety issues. Because MSC's standards emphasize traceability and sustainability, not food safety and product quality standards, we hope that MSC can integrate with quality management systems like HACCP to form a complete product certification chain. 

SeafoodSource: Do you get a lot of support from MSC in promoting MSC-certified products in your stores?

Liu: We continue to have close cooperation. Every year, we organize with MSC promotional activities. They provide educational material and volunteers in store. We are responsible for the product presentation and promotion.

SeafoodSource: What do you think needs to be done to increase the importance and popularity of MSC-certified seafood in the Chinese market?

Liu: From one side, we hope MSC can integrate with quality management systems like HACCP to form a complete product certification chain. On the other hand, we hope that the promotion of MSC can be normalized and made routine. We’d like in-store promotion at the store to be larger and over a longer time and we’d like to see the coordination of retailers' participation in MSC's sustainable fisheries projects. We want this to enable retailers, manufacturers and consumers through visual, long-term actions. The protection of fishery resources could be directly related to various specific protection projects, so that customers can more fully understand the importance of sustainable fisheries. At the same time join with international organizations such as WWF to offer awards to outstanding participants or enterprises, so that the [positive] behavior of production companies and customers is fully affirmed.

Photo courtesy of Ocean Family Co.

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