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Sustainable Seafood

Businesses as Educators, Change-Makers and Ocean Advocates

By 3p Contributor

By Shawn Cronin

It’s widely known the role businesses play in influencing and responding to consumer demand, but a growing number of businesses—large and small—are recognizing their own power to not only shape supply and demand, but also to change social norms.

Responding to consumer demand

When businesses make a change, whether through the introduction of new products or modifying their public messaging, it is often in reaction to customer demand. Demand may take the form of repeated consumer inquiries around a topic such as organic food or fair trade, or from reviewing and responding to sales trends.

Every time a person spends money, they are casting a vote--a vote for what they care most about at that moment: cost, personal health, social impact, environmental impact, etc. Consumer choices typically express their interest and values. Some customers go beyond using their purchasing power alone, telling their chef, retailer or supplier the importance of a particular product.

Consumer demands for sustainable options

Consumer demand has been a powerful change agent in the case of land-based sources of protein, successfully influencing farming practices and turning phrases like “cage-free,” “free-range” and “grass-fed” into household words. These same conscious consumers are also at the forefront of the sustainable seafood movement. An ever-increasing number of consumers are voicing their desire for sustainable seafood options. By inquiring how or where a seafood item was caught or farmed, or asking if it is sustainable, customers let businesses know where their priorities--and dollars--are headed. Get enough people asking the same questions and expressing the same values, and any savvy business will want to respond to that concern. For some businesses, such a response may already align with corporate core values, while other businesses will see an opportunity—or potential risk—and look to meet that demand.

An opportunity to educate

We all know that the customer—at any level in a supply chain—can affect demand up the supply chain, but often overlooked is the effect and importance of businesses educating and influencing down the supply chain by increasing consumer awareness. This could take the form of a seafood distributor sharing the sustainability information of their inventory with a retailer, or a chef promoting a sustainable seafood dish to patrons.

A retailer identifying which of their items is harvested in a more sustainable manner or comes from healthy stocks has the opportunity to reach a new consumer that may not have known that to be a possible issue. Wholesalers providing sustainability information to their clients may spark awareness to restaurants or retailers that previously hadn’t considered sustainability as an attribute to consider during purchasing and how their decision affects the marketplace.

Through marketing their efforts and educating down the supply chain, businesses help reaffirm the importance of environmentally responsible seafood and the importance of their commitment. They help reach the masses with an important message, set themselves apart in the marketplace, and ultimately benefit from the increased awareness.

In terms of sustainable seafood, regional retailers such as PCC Market in Seattle and Mom’s Organic in Maryland look to make their customers' purchasing decisions easy by offering only sustainable seafood. They communicate this effort at the point-of-sale and identify the Seafood Watch sustainability rating of each seafood item for their customers. Their patrons confidently shop for seafood knowing their grocery of choice has worked to provide only environmentally responsible options or are introduced to the concept of seafood sustainability and become better informed. National retailers such as Whole Foods have set similar standards, and we see large chains such as Safeway and Trader Joe's starting to offer more and more sustainable options.

As businesses both large and small collectively ask their suppliers to provide more sustainable options, the supply chain looks to adjust in order to meet demand. And just as retailers work to meet the demand of their customers, so too do the suppliers for theirs.

Royal Hawaiian Seafood of San Francisco and Santa Monica Seafood of Southern California (among others), both recognize the importance of providing sustainable seafood and work to identify which of their items meet this criteria by identifying the Seafood Watch rating of their products online for all buyers to see. They strive to make the purchasing decision of their customers easier by finding more environmentally responsible alternatives and in some cases using their buying power to create change on the water through direct improvement of fishing or farming operations.

Thousands of businesses nationwide use Seafood Watch recommendations in their buying decisions and a growing number have become Seafood Watch recognized business partners by making either time-bound commitments to sell only seafood rated as a “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative,” or committing to identify environmentally responsible options to their customers. As more businesses take these opportunities to educate, customers at all levels of the supply chain grow more aware of the issues affecting the world’s oceans. As their awareness grows, so does their demand for seafood caught and harvested in environmentally responsible ways and that shift in demand can be both good for business and the health of our oceans.

Image courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. 

Shawn Cronin is the Business Outreach Manager for Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch®.

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