Retailers react to mislabeling report

Published on
February 27, 2013

In the wake of a new Oceana study that found 33 percent of U.S. seafood samples were mislabeled, retailers and suppliers are taking a proactive approach to handling mislabeling problems.

To get the word out to consumers that mislabeling is not likely, Wegmans took to its company website to speak up about how effective its sourcing practices are. As a result, some retailers and seafood suppliers are speaking up about how effective their sourcing practices are.

“You may have seen media coverage recently about whether seafood in supermarkets and restaurants is identified and labeled correctly. We want you to know that at Wegmans, you shouldn’t worry about this, because we’ve taken many steps to be sure our fish and shellfish are not mislabeled,” wrote Mary Ellen Burris, senior VP of consumer affairs, wrote in a blog post on Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans’ website.

Wegmans works with Trace Register to track its seafood purchases back to the boat or farm, Burris wrote. In addition, most wild-caught fish must be delivered to its stores with the skin on, so seafood staff can double-check the species.

In addition, Wegmans does not purchase any seafood off the open market. “We only work with trusted suppliers and distributors. In fact, we recently brought together all our partners who deliver directly to our stores (as opposed to suppliers who bring it to our distribution centers and we deliver it to stores),” Burris wrote.

Santa Monica, Calif.-based Santa Monica Seafood, a wholesaler, retailer and restaurant operator, also issued a blog post about what the company is doing to ensure that its seafood is not mislabeled or mis-identified.

Most of the fresh fish and shellfish that SMS receives is delivered in whole form. “There’s no way to label a whole, farmed steelhead salmon as ‘Wild King Salmon’ and get it past our experienced receiving team,” wrote Mary Smith, marketing manager for SMS. “Not that we would ever get to that point. A key component of our sourcing program are the long-term relationships we’ve formed with quality suppliers over our 70-plus years of doing business,” Smith added.

Still, SMS performs random DNA testing as a backstop measure, and maintains certifications such as ISO 14001.

More retailers and restaurants should be taking this type of proactive approach to communicating with their customers, according to industry associations and consultants.

“We always encourage restaurants and retailers to source from Better Seafood Board members. It’s a better way to feel more comfortable about the seafood that you are buying and to communicate that to your customers,” Gavin Gibbons, director of media relations for the National Fisheries Institute, told SeafoodSource.

Neil Stern, senior partner of retail consultancy McMillan Doolittle, advises retailers to provide transparency in their seafood sourcing but be careful about claiming that they will never provide mislabeled seafood.

“It’s difficult, because you might be getting product unknowingly. A lot of times you are going to have multiple suppliers that are representing you, so it is more difficult to track,” Stern told SeafoodSource.

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