Midwestern consumers embrace Hy-Vee’s sustainable seafood offerings

Published on
June 9, 2017

Despite living in the heart of red meat country, consumers in the Midwest United States are embracing a sustainable seafood campaign at Hy-Vee grocery stores, a chain with more than 240 employee-owned supermarkets throughout the Midwestern United States. 

Speaking at a session on business models that support small-scale fishing on Wednesday, 7 June at the SeaWeb Seafood Summit in Seattle, Washington, Brett Bremser, Hy-Vee’s executive vice president of perishables, said the supermarket chain started working with Fishwise in 2012 on a sustainable seafood procurement policy. But he said the real eye-opener came last year when Hy-Vee rolled out a multi-pronged marketing campaign for Fair Trade tuna.  

Bremser said the campaign was a success out of the gates, with Hy-Vee using its monthly magazine and Facebook page as well as a strong point-of-sale element to reach around three million customers and educate them on its sustainable seafood policy. 

“It’s hard to quantify what caused them to make their purchasing decision. Whether it was increased awareness through the point-of-sale and all the marketing, or whether it was all the messaging we did that resonated well with customers, but it was well over a double-digit sales increase in year one over what we were doing before,” said Bremser, adding that the uptick in sales easily justified increased costs.  

Bremser said there is a common misconception that consumer interest in traceability and sustainability is confined to the urban centers on the East and West Coasts of the United States.

“I think a lot of times people look at the Midwest and they think folks there really don’t care. That’s not true at all. They ask us a lot of questions about the sources because having more of an agricultural base, they understand animal welfare. They understand social welfare. I don’t think there’s probably anyone who is better aligned with that than Midwestern folks,” he said.

There have been challenges. Bremser said consumers get “scared” of seafood because it is more expensive than beef and pork and they do not know how to prepare it. To that end, Hy-Vee uses it’s some 400 staff chefs – the chain has in-store restaurants – to give seafood cooking classes. 

They have also ramped up their investment in educating counter personnel, going so far as to send associates to get a firsthand view of fishing operations on shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico or salmon boats in Alaska.

“You can’t imagine how impactful that is, when the seafood manager comes back and says, I got to go to Alaska, I got to fish for that, and it was amazing and this is how it’s handled,” Bremser said.

Contributing Editor reporting from Seattle, USA

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?