Hy-Vee Defines Six Fields of Sustainability, Upholds Commitment to Responsible Choice Initiative

Today’s consumers are interested in and concerned about their food supply. From nutritional value and quality to sourcing and environmental impact, customers are asking for transparency. Through Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood initiative, the company has taken it upon itself to provide a new level of consumer confidence.

Hy-Vee takes its commitment to responsible seafood seriously, which is why the company requires a thorough assessment before a seafood offering may be deemed a Responsible Choice item. As part of Hy-Vee’s Seafood Procurement Policy, vendors are required to provide comprehensive information on six fields of sustainability for the shipment to be labeled “Responsible Choice.” These six fields ensure best practices are being met and vendors are accountable for their products. It also ensures products can be traced back to their origin.

The six fields include:

  1. The seafood’s generic, market name. This field lists the generic, market name most commonly used in the store, and the name most customers would recognize. For this example, we will use Alaska pollock. The market name for this seafood is Alaska pollock.
  2. Scientific species name. The species name discloses the seafood’s full scientific name, which is often in Latin or Greek. The Latin name for Alaska pollock is Theragra chalcogramma.
  3. Country of catch or production. This field notes the country in which the product was caught or farmed and ensures the first degree of traceability is met. The Alaska pollock was caught in the United States.
  4. Region of catch or production. The region field describes specifically the ocean, lake or location of the farm in which the product was caught. This also aids in traceability efforts and holds vendors accountable for their catch. Alaska was the region of catch for the Alaska pollock.
  5. Gear type/production method. This field names the method used to catch or farm the product, which ensures seafood vendors are utilizing responsible fishing practices as approved by the Responsible Choice program. This means the seafood was harvested in a way that provides for its long-term viability and also minimizes damage to the environment and other sea life. The gear type for Alaska pollock is midwater trawl.
  6. Sustainability eco-certification (if applicable). The final field requires the vendor to provide the name of the organization(s) from which it obtained certification. Hy-Vee and the seafood industry trust accredited third-party resources to ensure the vendor meets industry standards and follows best practices. An example is a certification or accreditation from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

Based on this information, Hy-Vee and FishWise then determine if the product should receive Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice label, which indicates that the product meets Hy-Vee’s standard for responsibly sourced seafood. Hy-Vee defines “responsibly sourced” as seafood that is Green or Yellow rated by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program or is certified to an environmental standard equivalent to these thorough ratings (e.g. MSC certified).

Ultimately, Hy-Vee’s goal in assessing each vendor according to these six sustainability fields is to ensure each utilizes environmentally-friendly practices, is transparent regarding where the product was caught or raised, and provides a safe, quality product for their customers. Each of these six fields is listed on the product’s master case label and is available to customers upon request.

Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood initiative is more than an idea, it is a promise to customers. Hy-Vee’s commitment is executed through each purchasing decision and reflects the standards set within the Responsible Choice initiative.

Author: Kathleen Mullen-Ley

My name is Kathleen Mullen-Ley, and I am a project manager for FishWise. FishWise, a nonprofit sustainable seafood consultancy, has been working with Hy-Vee to research and recommend seafood product sourcing, develop and implement Hy-Vee's Responsible Choice Seafood materials and staff training, and analyze data to measure progress towards Hy-Vee's 2015 Commitment. I hold a master’s degree in marine biodiversity and conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies from the University of California Santa Cruz. My graduate research project was an analysis of the World Trade Organization ruling on the U.S. dolphin-safe tuna label and its implications for future market-based marine conservation efforts. My experience analyzing fishery management issues and communicating marine science to diverse audiences combined with my respect for ocean life has made me well-prepared to take on the challenges of sustainable seafood.