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.

Responsible Choice Seafood from Alaska, a World Model for Sustainability, Sells Itself

All of our Responsible Choice products meet high standards and Hy-Vee’s commitment to bring customers the freshest, best-quality fish and seafood available today, but seafood from Alaska is in a league of its own.

Throw the name “Alaska” in front of a species of fish and it sells itself and stands for a high quality that is unmatched. Customers feel confident purchasing fish they know is from Alaska, whether it’s Alaskan king crab, salmon, Pacific halibut or black cod.

Customers know where it comes from – some of the cleanest, purest waters anywhere – and they know it’s not only safe to eat, but has superior flavor and texture as well. The flavor is a result of the fish feeding on a natural diet of marine organisms and the texture comes from their annual migrations in the cold waters of the North Pacific.

Alaska’s seafood industry, the state’s largest private-sector employer, is a world model of seafood sustainability and fisheries management – and has been for 50 years. Continuing that livelihood – and a healthy supply of fish and healthy oceans for generations to come – is so important that the Alaska Constitution mandates that fish are “utilized, developed and maintained on the sustained yield principle.”

The quota system is well managed and the fisheries live and die by it. Once their quota is met, they’re done. As a result of these practices, no species of Alaska seafood has ever been red-listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The Pacific halibut and black cod (sablefish) harvest season just opened, and limits have been set at 16.8 million pounds before the season ends in November. Alaska has more than 95 percent of the Pacific halibut and catches are closely monitored. In the last few years, they’ve cut back on the amount of halibut to ensure the availability of this favorite – the largest of the flatfish, known for its mild flavor and firm texture.

Salmon is one of the most popular seafoods in the world. People live for it. King salmon is in season year-round, but the seasons for sockeye, coho, keta and pink salmon generally run May-September. The fisheries take great care to manage the populations during spawning season, allowing significant numbers to escape so they can make it up river to spawn.

As a result of these time-tested management practices, the fisheries have been able to make abundant salmon harvests for more than three decades.

When Hy-Vee launched its Responsible Choice initiative – our pledge that by the end of 2015, all of our high-quality fresh and Hy-Vee brand frozen seafood will be responsibly caught – it was no big deal for the three vendors we work with in Alaska.

Alaska knows they are doing it right. They get it.

Like Other Vendors in Partnership, Soho Foods Made Seamless Switch to Pole-Caught Tuna

When Hy-Vee and its wholly owned subsidiary, Perishable Distributors of Iowa (PDI), announced the new Responsible Sourcing Commitment to its seafood suppliers, their switch to more sustainable catch methods was so seamless as to register barely a hiccup.

The Responsible Choice label on seafood products sold at Hy-Vee is customers’ guarantee that the fish they’re buying was caught using responsible methods that don’t threaten other species, are environmentally sound, and ensure seafood will be around for future generations to enjoy.

Our partnership with suppliers is long-standing. It’s a friendship, with loyalty that cuts both ways. One example of this is PDI’s relationship with Soho Foods, LLC, which supplies much of Hy-Vee’s frozen tuna. Soho Foods has been one of our vendors since PDI started in the early 1980s, and we were able to build on that relationship when we asked them to use a different catch method. They quickly complied and each shipment comes with a letter guaranteeing that the tuna is100 percent hand-line caught.

Soho Foods works with multiple fishing boats, so it was easy for them make the switch to environmentally friendly handlines and help us honor our commitment to offer responsibly sourced seafood to our customers.

All of our suppliers have readily embraced Hy-Vee’s commitment to responsibly source all fresh and Hy-Vee brand frozen seafood by the end of 2015. It’s a win-win situation for all of us, and it all goes back to that relationship, or friendship, and being able to communicate as our needs change.

We didn’t want to drop vendors when we made the switch to Responsible Choice seafood, and we haven’t had to. Soho Foods is just one example; all of our vendors have been great to work with in making this change.

Responsible Choice Seafood Supplier Spotlight: PDI’s Vendors ‘Thrilled to Join Us on This Journey’

Perishable Distributors of Iowa (PDI) provides an important link in helping Hy-Vee, our parent company, meet its goal of transitioning all of its fresh and frozen Hy-Vee-brand fish to environmentally responsible and traceable sources by the end of 2015.

Hy-Vee employs an on-site U.S. Department of Commerce lot inspector, who checks each shipment here at PDI’s Ankeny, Iowa, warehouse to make sure the fish has been maintained at the correct temperature all along the supply chain, and whether the correct temperature was exceeded at any point during the shipment.

If for any reason the product fails – whether from a sustainability standpoint or by any of the other measures in place to ensure the quality, safety and integrity of our seafood – it is rejected.

But that’s only part of the story.

Before the fish ever reaches our 350,000-square-foot distribution center, PDI works with Hy-Vee’s vendors to make sure the products we procure are harvested or farmed in a manner consistent with our Responsible Sourcing Commitment, which our customers can see with the Responsible Choice labeling.

We have been working behind the scenes for three years to make these sourcing changes. We knew we had the right vendors. We strongly believed that we shouldn’t just throw them aside – which wouldn’t do anything to change the industry – but instead had a responsibility to educate them about how the industry is changing and what they needed to do to profit from that change.

This is a long-term partnership and we all have the same goals – to create awareness about overfishing, indiscriminate fishing methods, and other practices that aren’t sustainable.

Here’s an example: We have been communicating with a tuna vendor about how important it is to fish for tuna using handlines to avoid catching species other than tuna. He didn’t know he was sitting on the best choice rod-and-reel caught tuna, but by having a face-to-face conversation, he was able to see how this was going to create more sales for him.

If not for the support of our vendors and partnering with FishWise, we wouldn’t be where we are today. All of our vendors have been thrilled to join us on this journey – and it is a journey. Changing the industry is not something you can achieve by flipping a switch.

We’re definitely headed in the right direction.