Responsible Choice Seafood: What’s the Difference?

Allow me to preface this post by stating that all of Hy-Vee’s seafood – labeled with a Responsible Choice logo or not – is safe to eat and of the highest quality.

Think back to the last time you were standing in front of the seafood counter in your local Hy-Vee store. You may have noticed that, while many of Hy-Vee’s seafood products have the new ‘Responsible Choice’ label, there are some that do not. What is the difference between products with a Responsible Choice label and those without a label?

The Responsible Choice label identifies seafood products that come from well-managed sources that minimize the environmental impacts of harvesting or farming. Specifically, these products are rated either Green (Best Choice) or Yellow (Good Alternative) by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, or are certified to an equivalent environmental standard (for example, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification).

Products that do not have a Responsible Choice label are either Unrated or Red rated by the Seafood Watch Program or are not yet certified to an environmental standard equivalent to Green or Yellow ratings. Some seafood is not yet produced at an environmental standard that meets Hy-Vee’s conditions for a label. Hy-Vee is actively working to improve these seafood items by engaging with fisheries and farms to enhance their environmental performance, or switching products to more sustainable alternatives if improvements cannot be made. As Hy-Vee progresses towards the 2015 goal, you will see more and more products with the Responsible Choice label.

Hy-Vee’s staff is going through extensive training as a part of the new seafood program, so you can feel comfortable asking any questions about the source, quality, and type of seafood at your local Hy-Vee store. Support the health of your family and healthy oceans by purchasing items with the Responsible Choice label.

Hy-Vee’s Seafood Cases are Brimming with Responsible Choice Options from Around the World

Seafood Case

The seafood cases at Hy-Vee stores are brimming with sustainable seafood options, branded Responsible Choice to demonstrate our commitment to healthy choices for your family, the environment, and the world’s oceans and the various species they support.

One of the best choices is Idaho rainbow trout from Clear Springs Foods. They are definitely the leaders in the industry for Responsible Choice trout, and Clear Springs is the only trout supplier we’re featuring now. We had some others that weren’t as environmentally friendly, so this is a big change that comes with Hy-Vee’s commitment to responsibly source all of its fresh and store brand frozen seafood by the end of 2015.

Clear Springs Foods made the grade because the fish are farm-raised in a closed system of concrete raceways fed by pristine natural spring waters. The same company provides ready-to-bake options, such as Parmesan-crusted Idaho rainbow trout.

Customers can also feel confident about Pacific cod, which is probably the most recognized fish in the world. People like this white fish because of its mild flavor and low fat content. Back in the day, sea merchants traded cod for supplies, and Atlantic stocks have collapsed as a result. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program has rated some Atlantic cod fisheries as a Red ‘Avoid’ because of the long history of overfishing.

Pacific cod, on the other hand, has been very well managed, so the stocks are good. Our cod comes from Alaska, where limits have been imposed on what can be caught and how much can be caught.

Previously frozen, this Pacific cod coming out of Alaskan waters lives close to the sea floor and is caught in pots – not by bottom trawls – and bycatch is mostly eliminated. If other species are caught, they remain alive and they can be thrown back into the water. With longlines, which aren’t included in the sustainable practices we require at Hy-Vee, the fish can be dead when it’s pulled into the boat.

Halibut is another popular responsibly sourced Pacific fish. Its availability is limited, though, because limits were put in place because conservationists have noticed there haven’t been as many juveniles. We’ll see more fresh supplies in early March – great timing, as this is a good grilling fish.

A good starter fish for people who want to introduce more seafood into their diets is tilapia, which Hy-Vee brings in fresh from Ecuador. It’s a clean, white fish that takes on the flavor of whatever you put with it. If you want a non-fishy-tasting fish, tilapia is the way to go. Tilapia are vegetarians, so farmers don’t have to use fish meal or other fish, making it very environmentally friendly. It’s also a good value fish.

Very close to tilapia in taste is swai or basa, a less common name for this river fish from Vietnam. It’s a type of catfish.

Another very popular Responsible Choice in the Midwest is channel catfish, a river fish that many of us grew up with and know well. Hy-Vee’s catfish is domestic and farm-raised in ponds, mostly in Mississippi. We offer it in three forms: as fillets (the most expensive option), whole fish (about $3 less per pound than fillets) and as catfish nuggets (the most affordable variety).

Also popular are ahi tuna and swordfish, which are pole caught in Indonesia without using other fish as bait. Each shipment comes with a letter certifying that it was caught using this sustainable practice. Both are great grilling-weather fish.

Our Responsible Choice initiative has changed what’s available in the seafood case, and in some cases introduced people to some new fish. Our customers are overwhelmingly supportive of this and think Hy-Vee is doing the right thing.

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.

Recipe Spotlight: Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon Will Change Your Mind About Farm-Raised Fish

Farm-raised cold-water fish like salmon can get a bad rap. Conventional wisdom is that it can have a different taste than wild salmon, but advances in aquaculture are closing the gap.

One of the best options in the Hy-Vee seafood case is Mt. Cook Alpine salmon, which is disrupting expectations about farm-raised salmon in a big way. This fish is raised in a canal fed by glacier runoff from New Zealand’s Southern Alps. There’s no human interaction in these clean, fast-flowing waters, no runoff from human activities and the water is so pure that you can drink it both before and after the fish leave.

The fish in these waters are disease-free; never get antibiotics, hormones or other chemicals; and are killed in a humane way that minimizes unnecessary stress and pain, a method that ensures better flesh quality.

Mt. Cook salmon is also incredibly healthy. The Omega-3 fatty acids in this fish are comparable with wild-caught salmon, and have three times the amount of Omega 3 oils as Atlantic salmon and in comparison, has very low intramuscular fat.

This flavor of this fish is so clean that I hate to mask it with heavy sauces. Just make a light crust of seasonings, sear the fish and finish it off in the oven. Try this:


Seared Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon with Garlic Spinach

All you need:

  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 (5 oz each) Mt. Cook salmon fillets, skinned
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp shallot, minced
  • 1 to 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • salt and black pepper, to taste
  • squeeze of fresh lemon

All you do:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Combine brown sugar, salt, black pepper, cumin, dry mustard and cinnamon in a small bowl. Rub spice mixture on the top side (non-skin) of the salmon fillets.
  3. Heat an oven-proof sauté pan over medium-high heat; add 1 tablespoon olive oil and sear fillets, rub-side down, until fish is browned, about 2 minutes. Flip fillets and place pan in oven; finish cooking for 5 to 6 minutes or until fish flakes easily.
  4. While fish is in oven, heat another sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add butter, shallots and garlic. Sauté until garlic is fragrant and add spinach; sauté until slightly wilted; season with salt and pepper. Serve spinach with salmon fillet on top; squeeze fresh lemon on fish just before serving.

Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice Seafood Soothes Your Conscience While Contributing to Heart and Brain Health

Hy-Vee’s new Responsible Choice seafood initiative is taking away some of the worry for people who want the health benefits of seafood, but don’t want to contribute to over-fishing and other practices that threaten the supply of seafood and damage the environment.

Dieticians recommended that people eat two to three servings – each in the 3- to 4-ounce range – of fish per week. We know there are health benefits, such as lowering the risk for strokes or heart attacks and increasing brain health, but research also suggests that eating more fish lowers the risk for certain kinds of cancer.

Salmon Filets with Cutting BoardThe top reason for that? Fish are loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids.

Of the three essential Omega-3s – Eicosapentaenoic (EPA), docosahexaenoic (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – only EPA and DHA are found exclusively in seafood and marine algae.

ALA is also found in plants, such as flax, walnuts, chia and pumpkin seeds, and although it’s true that ALA can be converted by the body to EPA and DHA, the conversion rate is very low. Only a fraction of a percent is actually converted to EPA and DHA.

If you’re looking to improve your heart and brain health, salmon and tuna are great sources for Omega-3 acids, but so are trout, mackerel and herring. On the other hand, seafood species like shrimp, crab, lobster and clams have very little Omega-3 content.

That’s not to say they’re not healthy. They’re still extremely nutritious. Shrimp, for example, is a great source of protein.

Many times when people are trying to lose weight, they think the only answer is to cut back on what they eat. That can backfire, because it leaves them feeling hungry. Eating more protein can keep them feeling full and satisfied. That’s also helpful in maintaining blood sugars. When you increase your protein intake, you don’t have those highs and lows that can lead to hunger and lack of concentration.

If you want to lose weight, seafood is a great high-protein, low-calorie center-plate replacement that will leave you feeling full and satisfied. When adding more seafood to your diet as part of a weight-loss plan, look for nutrient dense species.

The calories you’re getting will be very well spent, because you’ll get a lot of nutrients with them – protein, beneficial fats and other nutrients. Clams for example, have 30 percent of your daily need for iron, as well calcium and other vitamins.

All seafood is beneficial. The only possible downside is mercury content – especially in shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel. Visit Hy-Vee’s seafood counter for more information about seafood species that are both low in mercury and Responsible Choices.

Besides looking at how the fish was caught and the effect on the ocean’s environment, Hy-Vee’s suppliers also consider seafood’s safety for consumption.

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.

Eating on a Budget: With Current Meat Prices, Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice Seafood is a an Affordable Center-Plate Replacement

Until they’ve had a chance to compare the price of Responsible Choice seafood with some of the other items in our meat counter, customers think “if it’s ‘sustainable’, it’s got to be more expensive.” That’s the perception, but it’s not true.

We’re currently seeing higher beef prices because of a combination of factors – fewer cattle in the system, for one – and fish is a good center-plate protein replacement.

It’s important to get more fish in your diet, so it’s a good choice for your family and a good choice for your wallet. Couple that with the Responsible Choice label, and you can be confident that the fish has been caught in a way that protects other species and is good for the environment.

I’ve seen people at the fresh meat counter, looking back and forth, first at a signature beef item and then at tuna steak, which is priced at $2 or less a pound. They have that “aha!” moment, that they can have a tuna steak and pay less, and it’s going to be a healthier choice.

You can have seafood more often – it’s not just for your birthday or some other special occasion – and it’s not going to kill your budget. Our Responsible Choice lobster, king crab and snow crab can be bought at the same price as a ribeye steak.

Some of our Responsible Choice seafood can be purchased at an incredible value. Mussels sell for around $4.99 a pound – that’s cheaper than ground beef – and clams from $3.99 to $6.99 a pound. Both are great for paella, or just put them in wine and garlic, steam them until they open, and serve them over rice or pasta. It’s a great way to stretch your food budget.

Tilapia and swai are also very affordable, anywhere from $4.99 a pound to $7.88 for two pounds if the fish is frozen. Tilapia is on sale off and on, and both of these are mild white fishes that can take on the flavor of whatever you’re preparing them with.

It’s just a matter of overcoming that preconceived notion that responsible choice seafood will break the family food budget. That’s just not true. A lot of the seafood we carry has been sustainably caught for some time; we just haven’t been shouting about it.

Steps to Success: FishWise Partnership with Hy-Vee

Hy-Vee’s overall goal for their seafood includes protecting the health of their customers and the environment while providing the best quality and selection of seafood. To help realize the environmental component of this goal, Hy-Vee partnered with FishWise in 2011. FishWise is a non-profit seafood consultancy that works with retailers and other members of the seafood industry to promote the health and recovery of ocean ecosystems through environmentally responsible business practices. We have over a decade of experience developing and implementing sustainable seafood programs and our partners are recognized as industry leaders.

FishWise first began in 2002 out of concern for the serious issues facing the ocean and with the intention of enabling seafood businesses to support sustainability via responsible sourcing and customer education. Resource depletion, overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and government mismanagement are only a few of the numerous threats facing ocean ecosystems today, and purchasing responsibly produced seafood can be a challenge. Fortunately, responsible options do exist and FishWise wants to help businesses like Hy-Vee source from these environmentally conscious suppliers, who are working to preserve seafood for future generations.

FishWise started working with Hy-Vee by helping the company develop their Seafood Procurement Policy, which acts as the foundation of their Responsible Seafood Program. After the Policy was implemented, FishWise began the ongoing process of researching products and communicating with Hy-Vee’s seafood buyers to make sourcing improvements. FishWise then consulted with Hy-Vee to develop the Responsible Choice point-of-sale materials and staff training program that will help Hy-Vee educate its customers about its responsibly sourced seafood.

Now we are entering an exciting phase in the Hy-Vee – FishWise partnership where the Responsible Seafood Program is being unveiled to customers. Next time you visit a Hy-Vee store, stop by the seafood department to take a look at the new Responsible Choice labels on products that meet the company’s Procurement Policy and have a conversation with Hy-Vee’s knowledgeable and friendly seafood staff.

Hy-Vee’s journey toward sustainability is not over, but as a result of the company’s willingness to make big changes and partner with FishWise, Hy-Vee has established itself as a leader in the industry and a destination for sustainable seafood.

Recipe Spotlight: Alaska King Crab Legs with Dipping Sauces

I enjoy being part of a company that features fish and shellfish caught in a sustainable way, so it can be enjoyed by people for generations to come.

That’s the case with our Alaska king crab legs, which can be prepared with a variety of dipping sauces. Crab legs are a good choice for entertaining, but also for everyday eating.

Don’t be intimidated. They’re very easy to prepare. All you need is a nice, big stock pot and some kitchen shears. Just bring 2 to 3 inches of water to a rapid simmer, throw the crab legs in and cover. It’s OK if some of the legs are sticking out of the pot.

When they’re done, tear the crab legs at the joint. Flip them to the smoother side and snip them open with the kitchen shears. Break the crab legs into pieces and open them to retrieve the meat.


Alaska King Crab Legs with Dipping SaucesAlaska King Crab Legs with Dipping Sauces

All you need:

3 to 4 pounds of Alaska king crab legs (snow or Dungeness also work), thawed or frozen

All you do:

1. To prepare the crab, fill a 16- to 20-ounce stock pot with water. Bring to a boil and add crab legs. Reduce the heat; cover and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes for frozen crab or 3 to 4 minutes for thawed crab, until heated through. Drain and serve with the dipping sauces, see recipes below.

Rouille Sauce

All you need:

  • 1/3 cup bottled roasted red peppers
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2/3 cup low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

All you do:

1. Combine the peppers and garlic in a food processor and process until well minced. Pulse in the remaining ingredients until well combined.

Basil-Mint Pesto Sauce

All you need:

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp toasted walnuts
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

All you do:

1. Combine basil, mint, oil, walnuts, garlic and lemon juice in a food processor; puree until smooth. Add Parmesan and pulse until well combined. For a creamier sauce, combine 1/4 cup of the Basil-Mint Pesto sauce with 1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise.

Mediterranean Dip

All you need:

  • 1 (6.5 oz) jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 1 cup low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup chopped drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 (4 oz) can sliced olives, drained
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives OR 2 tbsp. sliced green onions

All you do:

1. Blend the artichoke hearts, Parmesan cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and chives in a bowl. Place in ovenproof baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly, if desired.

Butter Sauce

All you need:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted melted butter
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3/4 tsp garlic salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill weed
  • dash white pepper

All you do:

1. Blend ingredients together in a bowl.

The dips may be prepared up to two days in advance. Reheat the butter sauce as needed.

Sustainable Business 101: Why Use Industry Leading Sustainable Seafood Practices?

Right now, certain types of seafood are overfished or harvested in a way that causes undue stress to the environment and other sea life. At Hy-Vee, we believe retailers need to step up and take care of the planet, take care of its ecosystems and leave them better than we found them.

That’s what we’re doing with our Responsible Sourcing Commitment in our Seafood Procurement Policy. Our aim with the new policy is for Hy-Vee to be an unquestioned destination for sustainable seafood and, by the end of 2015, all of our high-quality fresh and Hy-Vee brand frozen seafood will be responsibly sourced.

We don’t want our legacy to be that we didn’t respect the environment. Instead, Hy-Vee wants to be a leader in this arena and inspire other companies. The end goal is for everyone to get there. Hopefully, we can be one of those companies that can guide the entire industry towards sustainability.

This is a journey we’re on with our suppliers. We’re doing this to help them get better. To get there together, we’ve developed our commitment to Responsible Choice seafood procurement with FishWise, a non-profit group that supports sustainability through environmentally responsible business partners.

When consumers see the Responsible Choice label, they can be assured that they are buying seafood that is rated “green” (best choice) or “yellow” (a good alternative) by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program. These ratings are derived from scientific and peer reviewed assessments that analyze the effects the fishery or fish farm has on the environment and other species.

Couple that with Hy-Vee’s commitment to the best and freshest goods, and the Responsible Choice labeling gives our customers complete confidence that what they buy is supporting the health of their families and that of the oceans.

We want customers to know that it’s where we say it’s from, it’s the freshest they can get, that there is integrity behind it, and that it’s our mission to do business in a way that promotes the well-being of our customers, employees, communities and the global environment.