EcoFish’s Henry Lovejoy saw the promise in sustainable seafood decades ago
Henry Lovejoy is the founder and president of EcoFish, a 20-plus-year-old Dover, New Hampshire, U.S.A.-based company that produces the Henry & Lisa’s Natural Seafood brand and Freshé.
SeafoodSource: How did you come to start your company and how has grown since its inception?
Lovejoy: I started a company exporting live lobster to Europe and Asia for almost 10 years in the 1990s and had the opportunity to travel extensively in those markets. What I witnessed in the global seafood exchanges in Paris, Madrid, and Tokyo concerned me. The vast volume of fish sold in those markets on a daily basis was astounding. Especially from overfished fisheries, like warehouses full of bluefin tuna on the Tokyo auction, many of which were too small to reproduce. I decided to write a business plan for a company that only sold seafood that was 100 percent certified sustainable, to help build a model for the future of the industry and to provide consumers with a choice. Today, EcoFish’s Henry & Lisa’s Natural Seafood canned and frozen products are sold in 5,000 grocery stores nationwide. Last year, we launched our new Freshé brand of canned meals with certified sustainable seafood, which is exploding.
SeafoodSource: Sustainability has always been a big part of your story. How is the industry moving the needle on this topic? And what still needs attention?
Lovejoy: Sustainability has become one of the major issues moving forward for the global seafood industry, and that is very exciting. When EcoFish started in 1999, no one knew what “sustainable seafood” was, as it was not yet defined. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) started at the same time as EcoFish, so there were very few fisheries certified at that time. Once Alaska salmon was certified as the MSC’s first major fishery, it opened a lot of doors. Sustainability now has enormous momentum, as many of the major fisheries are certified and many more are on the way. I am ecstatic that the seafood industry is well along the path to plotting a sustainable future, although there is still a long way to go. Illegal and unreported fishing needs to end, and everyone needs to accept that with the exploding human population the oceans can no longer feed everyone. This is why certified sustainable aquaculture is so important to the future of the planet and to the industry.
SeafoodSource: Your company was early into the gluten-free category, producing gluten-free salmon burgers and breaded fish nuggets. What prompted this and how has having gluten-free options impacted your business?
Lovejoy: Gluten-free has proven it was not a fad. It remains one of consumers’ most sought-after attributes. Raw seafood by nature is gluten-free, however breaded seafood remains a big category and therefore an opportunity for gluten-free brands. It has been a good market for us, but we believe that sustainability is much more important, for the future of our planet and because retailers are requiring it.
SeafoodSource: A lot of changes have taken place since EcoFish's founding in supermarkets and retailing in general. What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities with a retail seafood product in today's marketplace?
Lovejoy: The biggest opportunity is getting on board with sustainability and certification, as most major retailers have written policies now requiring this, which includes full traceability. The biggest challenge remains the cost of entry at supermarkets, especially for smaller brands like us. This is where the internet has become very disruptive. However, online sales are not necessarily the silver bullet; there are a lot of costs involved there, too. At least the internet has allowed for the playing field to be leveled somewhat between larger and smaller brands. Also, a clean label is increasingly important to consumers – the seafood industry needs to get away from chemicals.
SeafoodSource: What has been your greatest business accomplishment to date?
Lovejoy: Helping put sustainable seafood on the map at the turn of the century.
SeafoodSource: What haven't you done yet with your business that you'd still like to do?
Lovejoy: We still have a lot of growth ahead. The bigger we get, the more we can push sustainability and quality.
SeafoodSource: What issues related to the seafood industry are you watching most closely these days?
Lovejoy: Verification. Although sustainability has a big audience today, not everyone is walking the talk. If you say you’re “sustainable,” prove it through being certified by a credible third-party organization. There is no in-between. Retailers need to require certification from any brand claiming “sustainability.”
Photo courtesy of Henry Lovejoy