Hy-Vee Sets a New Standard When It Comes to Local – Sourcing Hybrid Striped Bass and Barramundi from the Heartland

Authored by John Rohrs & Kathleen Mullen-Ley

In a country that imports over 90 percent of its seafood, it’s rare to find a restaurant or grocery store that sources its seafood locally. However, with Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood program, we are doing just that by achieving the highest standards, keeping a close eye on environmental stewardship and upholding accountability to our customers.

Regarding the fresh hybrid striped bass and barramundi in our case daily, the local story begins with a family-owned and operated company in Blairsburg, Iowa – Iowa’s First. Hy-Vee learned about the forward-thinking style of raising seafood inland and jumped at the opportunity to transition from international sources to a local partner. And the benefits are endless.

Encouraged by FishWise, our nonprofit sustainable seafood partner, to utilize land-based aquaculture systems, Hy-Vee is proud to partner with another environmentally conscious company as part of our Responsible Choice initiative. Land-based aquaculture systems mitigate or eliminate many of the negative impacts to the surrounding environment typical of traditional ocean-based aquaculture systems and minimize biosecurity risks.

Sourcing from a local, land-based fish farm also leads to exemplary traceability. In fact, in a land-based system, each fish is observed and handled with care from the farm to your plate. Ongoing efforts to improve the quality of product are constant. For example, this summer Iowa’s First implemented a new system of LED lighting to simulate sunrise and sunset times, which is key to improving feeding time and managing stress levels of the fish.

Iowa’s First utilizes a flow through system to remove waste properly that ensures the system remains clean without the use of antibiotics. This is done by using a series of tanks to warm and oxygenate water, which is then circulated through various filters to collect waste and convert the waste’s ammonia to nitrates. Any wastewater remaining is sent to a nearby lagoon and later used to irrigate fields near the facility.

In addition to the safe, local practices, hybrid striped bass and barramundi have received a “Best Choice” or Green Rating from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program and a ringing endorsement for health from Dr. Oz.

“Free of mercury, but full of heart–and brain–healthy omega-3s, barramundi is a shoe-in for one of my top 5 superfoods. Bonus: the white meat is light, flaky and delicious,” says Oz.

Hy-Vee’s partnership with Iowa’s First is a great opportunity for us to support local business and community, all while offering a safe, traceable product for our customers. We are proud to offer fresh, quality seafood and will continue to look for ways to improve these efforts.

Sourcing Seafood from the Atlantic Illustrates Nuances of Hy-Vee’s Procurement Policy

Wrtten by John Rohrs & Kathleen Mullen-ley

Hy-Vee has made a strategic decision through its Responsible Choice seafood program to not regularly feature finfish from the Atlantic Ocean in its seafood counters – an example of the company’s commitment to responsible stewardship of the world’s oceans.

The sustainability of finfish stocks from the Atlantic Ocean is evaluated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s (MBA) Seafood Watch program. MBA uses a “traffic light” color rating system to assess the sustainability of species and make recommendations for seafood buyers, with a Green rating indicating a “best choice,” a Yellow rating indicating a “good alternative,” and a Red rating indicating consumers should “avoid.”

Some finfish species from the Atlantic Ocean are Yellow rated by MBA, meaning they are generally well managed. However, some species are Red rated, meaning that they are not being fished sustainably. There are even some finfish species that are Yellow rated in one region and Red rated in a different region due to differences in the type of gear used and in management effectiveness.

Two examples of species with both Yellow rated and Red rated sources are Atlantic cod and American lobster.

Atlantic cod is one of the best examples anywhere of the problems created by overfishing. There’s no denying cod was an important commodity in early American history, and one that helped New England develop. However, the cod fishing industry is one of the most famous examples of a fishery collapse. It takes a very long time for populations to come back – often decades – and some fisheries never rebound.

It’s good business to take a hands-off approach in overfished areas, and give stocks time to recover, and Hy-Vee is doing its part. The well-managed wild fisheries in Alaska and the Pacific are meeting Hy-Vee customers’ demands for the popular whitefish.

The Atlantic is an important source for most of Hy-Vee’s shellfish, including fresh American lobster.

The famous American lobster fisheries are doing very well right now, but sourcing demonstrates just how nuanced Hy-Vee’s procurement policies are. The Maine stock is doing very well (Yellow rated), but in southern New England, stocks are overfished (Red rated). So Hy-Vee is careful in its procurement, ensuring none of its lobster comes from regions pressured by overfishing.

Some of the best sustainability stories come from Green rated oyster, mussel and scallop fisheries. Oysters and mussels are cultured, growing in beds and on ropes, respectively, and are important soldiers in bay ecology efforts. Scallops are wild-caught in open and closed beds that are well-managed.

Blue crab, often called Chesapeake blue crab because of its importance to the region’s economy, environment and culture, is another success story. Blue crab populations are rebounding because of careful management of the fisheries with limits on commercial and recreational fisheries.

Demand for this tasty, versatile seafood is so great that Hy-Vee supplements its supply with blue crab from other countries. Overall, Hy-Vee’s approach to Atlantic seafood can be described as thoughtful and proactive, and the company will continue to shift its procurement practices to address fishing patterns, among other items.

Supplier Spotlight: Belize Shrimp is the Perfect Combination of Responsible Choice and Delicious

As this blog can attest, we at Hy-Vee are serious about promoting healthy oceans and ensuring the long-term viability of the seafood supply—both in the United States and abroad. As a part of this commitment and our Responsible Choice initiative, we are excited to introduce Belize shrimp to our customers and into our seafood cases.

Produced by Belize Aquaculture Ltd. from one of the most environmentally advanced eco-aquaculture systems in the world, this white leg shrimp is farmed in ponds that contain water pumped daily from the Caribbean Sea—making it famously known as being “fresh out of the water.” The physical location and the production method provide the ideal environment for shrimp farming – perfect weather, rich coastlines and nutritious water.

Fisheries and farms around the globe are facing challenges in creating and implementing sustainable practices and environments. Belize and Belize Aquaculture Ltd. are ahead of the curve in properly managing their shrimp and their production environment. Belize Aquaculture is a “Best Aquaculture Practices” or “BAP” 3 star, which is one step from the highest rating. This has been achieved in part thanks to advanced education and training, and has helped to raise the industry standards in minimizing the impact on coastal waters and wildlife. Education also helps farmers to keep the shrimp robust and pure while producing less waste and contamination.

Now, let’s talk about the delicious, savory taste of these shrimp. Because these shrimp are raised on a special diet, they are uniquely sweet and succulent. They have a firm bite, giving many customers the shrimp flavor profile they desire. Due to Belize Aquaculture Ltd.’s practices, there are no additives or preservatives, no antibiotics, no hormones and no chemicals used in the production of this shrimp. In addition, the processing facility is a mere 10 minutes away from the farm—much closer than the industry standard of four to 12 hours. The combination of the production and processing standards means that you won’t find anything more natural or fresh than this shrimp.

And, it’s easy to prepare in a variety of ways. Boil it, sauté it or grill it and serve with classic cocktail sauce, or use Old Bay seasoning and butter for a little extra flavoring. Due to the freshness and quick processing time, this shrimp cooks in half the time as normal shrimp which helps on those busy summer nights when dinner needs to be made quickly. Be aware of the vibrant and dark red coloring the shrimp will possess when ready; it’s imperative to not overcook them. Our seafood counter experts or in-store chefs will be able to provide you with cooking suggestions and a recipe if you’d like, but no matter how you prepare them you can be confident that you are dining on one of the world’s best-tasting shrimp.

Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice Seafood Species Come from the U.S. Side of the Gulf of Mexico, Where Fisheries are Well Managed

John Rohrs here:

When Hy-Vee customers buy Responsible Choice seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, it’s predominantly from the U.S. side, where fisheries maintain quota systems and meet Monterey Bay Aquarium’s criterion for management.

One of the biggest factors affecting fin fish from the Gulf is sport fishing. Sportsmen and women are required to buy licenses, but it still has a huge effect on stocks. Between a combination of commercial fishing and recreational fishing, there is a great pressure on fin fish.

Some of the species customers will get from the Gulf include fish from the grouper family. We also bring in some American red snapper, but years of overfishing – it’s also one of the top species for sport fishing – make it a work in progress. It’s a long-living, late-maturing fish, so it will take time for stocks to rebound.

Kathleen Mullen-Ley here:

Hy-Vee’s wild shrimp also comes from Gulf of Mexico and meets the commitment to responsibly source all seafood by the end of 2015 because the species is in a comprehensive fishery improvement project.

Here’s the problem:
Many commercial fishing boats are complying with federal law that requires the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in federal and state waters, but Louisiana has a state law that prohibits enforcement of the federal law.

All of the shrimp caught in the Gulf is processed together, meaning the shrimp caught in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida is commingled with the shrimp caught in Louisiana. So because that Louisiana law is on the books, we can’t say Gulf wild shrimp is Responsible Choice, even though many fisheries are using TEDs.

Legislative efforts are continuing to bring everyone into compliance and end the political power struggle.

Only 6 Months Old, Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice Seafood Initiative is Already a Success Story

Six months into Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood program – our pledge to responsibly source all fresh and Hy-Vee brand seafood by the end of 2015 – we’re ahead of where we thought we would be.

We’re not the only ones who think so. Greenpeace USA ranked us No. 5 among the country’s top 26 retailers for our efforts in its Carting Away the Oceans: 2014 Rankings of Seafood Sustainability in U.S. Supermarkets report. That’s quite an accomplishment, and it’s the people who work at Hy-Vee and Perishable Distributors of Iowa (PDI) who give me the confidence to say that at this time next year, we will have made good on our pledge.

Some reasons:

Behind-the-scenes work building on already solid relationships with our partners for two years made for a smooth roll-out of the initiative earlier this year. We made sure our vendors were on board and all of our suppliers were on the same page as far as understanding what kind of product we need to meet the goals of our Seafood Procurement Policy.

One big surprise was how willing our vendors were to change with us. We’ve never had a procurement policy as strict as this one, but we found that suppliers are looking ahead at their futures as well. They are as interested as we are in doing the right thing to protect the oceans and the marine life that depend on them for survival.

Another surprise was that we only had to drop a few suppliers. We were afraid going into this initiative that we might have to abandon some long-standing relationships, but that wasn’t the case.

The few we did have to drop because their products just couldn’t be purchased under our Policy – a last resort – were very low-volume suppliers of specialty items.

One of the benefits of this program is that issues that were only whispered about are now front of mind among our employees and customers. It was an “out of sight, out of mind” type thing.”

We’ve heard about the issues affecting the world’s oceans, but may not have taken the risks all that seriously. As a result of this initiative, we’ve all become more aware of what is going on and we truly understand the issues fisheries deal with and how they’re engaged in doing the right thing.

There are still some challenges with some species, and educating the public about farm-raised salmon is one of the biggest ones. It’s a hot topic among consumers, and what they primarily hear is negative.

They’re not aware of all the good the farm-raised salmon industry has done to protect wild species. Salmon is one of the most sought-after seafood species in the world, and wild stocks can’t begin to cover the demand.

It’s a matter of increasing consumer awareness.

Implementing a holistic Responsible Seafood Program isn’t something you flip a switch on overnight. But overall, we’ve done a great job and achieved great success in a short time.

You’ve Been Waiting for It: Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice Wild Alaskan Salmon at a Price that will Make you Smile

Authored by John Rohrs & Dennis Frauenholz

Hy-Vee customers have been starving for wild Alaskan salmon all winter and spring, and now it’s available at a price point that appeals to a budget. Hy-Vee is featuring sockeye salmon for a very competitive price at $12.99 a pound through July 12, 2014, and our customers are buying it up as quickly as it comes in the stores.

Everything is hitting at the right time. We’re in the height of the grilling season, and this fish grills up perfectly. It also works well in the smoker, and retains its moisture.

Sockeye salmon is a great tasting fish that’s prized for its deep, red flesh – an indicator that it’s high in protein and beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids. That distinctive, rich flavor starts with pristine waters of Alaska, where there aren’t a lot of industrial and commercial influences creating pollution problems.

High winds and rough weather can affect the season, but it’s going well this year, with a steady supply of fish coming in weekly. It’s fresher than some of the farm-raised fish we get and right now it’s priced competitively, which is causing some of the farm-raised varieties to decline in price to below $11, from $13 or $14 a pound, where they were before the wild salmons season began.

The hot $12.99 price we’re selling sockeye at now will expire in a couple of weeks, but we’ll still have sockeye coming in through the end of July. It will rise some, but not to unaffordable levels.

If budgets allow, Hy-Vee has limited availability of king salmon, which is the best out there. King salmon grow larger than other species of salmon, so the steaks are thicker and are great for the grill, and they’re very high in the essential fatty acids. But the supply is limited so the price is higher, around $25 a pound.

On the lower end of the spectrum, we’ll start getting Keta salmon in the stores in mid-July. It’s not as high in the Omega-3s, but it’s still a good fish, especially if you want to dress it some with sauces and herbs, like dill.

Once the Sockeye salmon season ends, we’ll start getting more Coho. They’re smaller fish, but still very nutritious and tasty. Then look for another two-to-three-week run of Sockeye salmon in August.

Looking for Sockeye Salmon and Other Low-Mercury Fish? Look to Hy-Vee’s Low Mercury Card for Help

Authored by John Rohrs & Chef Adam Finnegan John here: Doctors advise pregnant women and others wanting to adopt a heart-healthy diet to eat more fish, but mercury content can be a concern. Hy-Vee works with its suppliers to provide several species that not only are responsibly caught, but contain very little mercury. The FDA doesn’t require mercury-content labels, but at Hy-Vee, we want to make sure that information is at consumers’ fingertips. Just look for the Responsible Choice seafood options on our Low Mercury Card, available at the seafood counter. Low mercury, responsibly harvested options include:

  • Catfish* (farmed in the USA)
  • Clams (farmed in the USA and wild)
  • Dungeness crab* (wild)
  • Mussels* (farmed)
  • Oysters* (farmed and wild)
  • Coho salmon* (wild USA and Canada)
  • King salmon* (wild USA and Canada)
  • Sockeye salmon* (wild USA and Canada)
  • Scallops (farmed and wild)
  • Trout* (farmed in the USA)

(*These species contain the daily minimum of Omega-3 fatty acids per 3.5 oz serving)


Adam here: One of the best options right now is sockeye salmon, which arrives fresh in the Hy-Vee stores during the summer season. This is very high-quality fish. Hy-Vee’s supplier owns the rights to a portion of the Copper River where sockeye salmon is harvested, so this is fish you can’t get anywhere else. It’s inspected and certified as wild-caught, hormone- and antibiotic-free, and it arrives packed in ice, every single day. It’s never frozen. With all that going for it, there’s no need to mess with it by adding heavy sauces and seasonings. Just add some salt, pepper and olive oil and keep it simple. Sockeye salmon is a firm fish that is best grilled. I prefer to grill it with the skin on or on a cedar plank, then I top it with a tropical salsa that has bright flavors.


Here is a salsa recipe that is a big hit with our customers. Combine all of the following ingredients and chill until you’re ready to serve it.

  • 3/4 cup diced mango
  • 3/4 cup diced grilled pineapple
  • 1 medium red pepper, diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced fine
  • 2 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making your own salsa, we’ve been doing them in-house and offer eight different salsas in our fresh cases. Our customers love the concept of topping their fish with our fresh salsas and our dietitians love it too.

How Deep is our Commitment to Responsibly Sourced Seafood? The Answer is Found on Hy-Vee Select Private Label Tuna

If you want to know how deep Hy-Vee’s commitment runs in its Responsible Choice seafood initiative, take a closer look at the fine print on Hy-Vee Select Private Label Tuna.

You’ll find guarantees there that you won’t find with major-label brands. Much of the canned tuna available on the market today is caught using industrial scale purse seines and longlines, which result in high levels of bycatch of non-target species, such as dolphins, sharks, turtles and other marine life.

That was a big concern for Hy-Vee, so we looked to FishWise to help us develop two private label lines that are making a huge difference.

Our new pole-and-line skipjack tuna and pole-and-troll albacore tuna are among the most progressive canned tuna offerings of any major retailer. The pole-and-line skipjack tuna, called ‘chunk light’ on the can, is especially impressive, given that the Monterey Bay Aquarium says it is the most sustainable option for any canned tuna.

The pole-and-troll albacore, called ‘solid or chunk white’ on the can, is sourced from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fisheries in the United States and New Zealand, and pole and troll are the two most selective albacore fishing methods, resulting in very little bycatch of non-target species.

This is a huge step forward in our sustainability program and our commitment to responsibly source all of our fresh and private label seafood by the end of 2015. For any retailer to do this is impressive, but it’s more so because Hy-Vee was able to pull this off in less than a year. It’s a matter of having the right suppliers, the right communication and a strong commitment to doing the right thing.

Also noteworthy: Hy-Vee’s private label products allow consumers to stretch their food dollars without sacrificing nutrition, taste or quality.

Copper River Salmon, the Best of the Alaskan Catch, is on Its Way to Select Markets

Salmon lovers, this is what you’ve been waiting for: highly prized fresh Copper River/Prince William Sound salmon will be available at select Hy-Vee stores starting May 21, signaling the beginning of the 2014 wild salmon season in Alaska.

From now through fall, Hy-Vee customers will find some of the best of the catch in the fresh seafood counter at selected stores. It’s all Responsible Choice, a strong start to our commitment to responsibly source all fresh and Hy-Vee brand fish and seafood by the end of 2015.

Because it’s from Alaska, where sustainability of the seafood industry – the state’s largest employer – is so important it’s written into the state Constitution, our customers also have the satisfaction of knowing that the salmon comes from the best managed fisheries in the world.

The Copper River salmon from Cordova, AK, has an intense taste that comes from the size of the Copper River, one of the largest rivers in the world, and its cold waters, and it is considered the best salmon on the market.

The Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association has done a fantastic marketing job. Alaska Airlines flies in the first ceremonial fish to Seattle, where some of the cities top executive chefs compete for the best salmon recipe in a now annual tradition known as the Copper Chef Cook-Off.

All that hype has made Copper River such a recognizable brand that out customers sometimes mistakenly refer to it as a species instead of a geographic area. There are three species of salmon in the Copper River District, and this year, it’s estimated that 1.60 million sockeye, 22,000 king salmon, and 280,000 Coho will be caught in the short, 4 to 6 week season.

Various factors can affect the total catch, including careful monitoring of the salmon run by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Officials want to make sure enough salmon escape to make their return not only their natal river to spawn, but to the exact spot of their birth.

As the wild salmon season progresses, Hy-Vee’s customers will see various other species of salmon showing up in the seafood case. As more becomes available, prices will adjust accordingly.

Recipe Spotlight: Thinking Globally While Eating Locally: Feel Good About This Cod Stew

John here:
Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood initiative responds to a growing interest among eaters in knowing where their food comes from, as well as our commitment to healthy oceans to ensure a bountiful supply of seafood for generations to come.

When they choose seafood from Alaska, consumers can feel 100 percent confident about the fish. It’s written into the state’s Constitution that the fishing industry, Alaska’s largest private-sector employer, use sustainable practices to ensure a plentiful supply of fish and healthy oceans for many years to come.

The fisheries live and die by that principle. Some of the best fish to come out of Alaska is Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice cod. It’s a mild white fish that many people are familiar with, most of the fish sandwiches out there are cod, and one that Hy-Vee frequently features in the seafood case.


Andrew Kintigh here:
The spring and summer growing season is just around the corner, meaning more locally produced vegetables will be available in the produce section at local Hy-Vee stores.

Some examples: We’ll soon be featuring Foxx tomatoes grown in Grimes, as well as organic produce and vegetables grown right here in Iowa. We also have relationships with Deardorff corn out of Adel, Grady’s tomatoes from Carroll and Mariposa Farms herbs from Grinnell, among others.

Different stores carry different local foods, so be sure to check your produce aisle to find what’s being grown near your back yard.

This Moroccan Cod Stew is a good, versatile recipe you can make their own by adding almost any kind of locally grown vegetable – peppers, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, English cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini and green beans are some good choices.

The broth is very forgiving, and it’s also light. You may not think about stew as a summer recipe, but especially when locally grown produce is added, it just screams spring and summer.

If you’re adding to the recipe, you may have to throw in some extra vegetable stock, depending on how thick of a stew you want. Also, be sure to think about cooking times. Throw in the root vegetables in the beginning and the fresher vegetables at the end so they’ll be crisp and retain their taste.

Pair this with a nice salad with local greens and tomatoes, and you’ve got a meal you can feel good about eating.


Moroccan Cod Stew with Chickpeas

All you need:

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, cut in small dice (choose locally sourced leeks if possible)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 2 (14.5 oz each) cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 1/4 pounds Alaska cod fillet, cubed
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups rough chopped kale greens (choose locally sourced kale if possible)
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

All you do:

  1. Heat the coconut oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until softened. Add garlic, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, turmeric and cayenne pepper; sauté for 1 minute.
  2. Add brown sugar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes and vegetable broth and bring the soup to a simmer. Add cod and chickpeas and simmer until all are tender, 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Add the kale greens to the pot and cook for 1 minute or until just wilted. Season with salt and pepper and top with toasted almonds.