It is Hy-Vee’s intent to sell high-quality seafood that not only is safe for consumption, but also is harvested or raised in a manner that provides for its long-term viability (sustainability) while minimizing damage to the environment and other sea life.
As Hy-Vee moves toward its self-imposed deadline to responsibly source all of its fresh and Hy-Vee brand frozen seafood by the end of 2015, customers will begin seeing some new varieties in the seafood case.
One variety our customers may not be familiar with is sablefish. Fisheries in Alaska have been harvesting this tasty, buttery fish since the 1800s, and new management practices have eliminated some of the problems that nearly depleted sablefish populations in the 1970s.
Before practices changed to trawl-and-pot, the fisheries used longline methods. The whales really love it because it’s very tasty, and they would eat the fish right off the lines, decimating the fisheries’ catch – a whale’s going to do what a whale’s going to do.
You’ll love it, too. Sablefish, which some people know as black cod, is one of best fish out there to eat, but one of the reasons people haven’t heard much about sablefish is that large quantities are shipped overseas to Japan, where there’s a high reverence for it.
Sablefish, like halibut, has a relatively short season, but it’s in season now, so we’ll be able to get it fresh in our stores.
Hy-Vee is also getting a farm-raised salmon that has earned the go-ahead from Monterey Bay and bears our Responsible Choice seal of approval. There are myriad issues related to farm-raised salmon, so it often gets all lumped together. But Verlasso, an Atlantic farm-raised salmon raised in Chile away from development is an exception.
Two big issues with farm-raised salmon are that the fish are grown in high densities, creating a high risk of the transmission of diseases to native salmon populations, and also that the feed contains an unsustainably high amount of wild fish, making it a lose-lose proposition. But Verlasso salmon is penned with 50 percent less fish, and the fish meal has been replaced with a meal that is rich in Omega-3, but has 75 percent less fish in the meal. They’re switching out the protein, but the fish still has the same texture and is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. And there’s no net loss to the environment.
Verlasso salmon should be available in our stores by April 1.
We’ve also added Idaho Rainbow Trout from Clear Springs Foods, which I’ve previously blogged about. 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 our seafood.
Currently, there is no farm-raised shrimp that meet Responsible Choice standards, but because shrimp is such a popular item, we’re eager to provide one for our customers. We’re getting in a cooked shrimp from Belize that is farmed in a closed system that pumps in fresh water, and the shrimp aren’t packed in as densely as at some other farms. It hasn’t hit the rating system yet.
It’s hard to read the crystal ball to determine when Monterey Bay will evaluate a species, but one thing customers can feel confident about is that, overall, we’re getting better items, even if we can’t immediately label them as Responsible Choice. The fisheries know the bar has been raised.
We’re also getting in Responsible Choice swai, which is like catfish, coming out of Vietnam. Protectionist legislation by U.S. catfish farmers means this mild white fish must be marketed under another name, so you may have seen it marketed as basa, though that’s an entirely different fish, or even under the shortened version of its scientific name, Pangasius hypophthalmus.
Another best choice-rated fish is Arctic Char, a cross between salmon and trout. It’s very tasty and has many of the characteristics of both species. It’s farm-raised in the deep, cold waters of glacial lakes, and you’ll occasionally find that in our case.
We’ve also switched to a Responsible Choice mahi mahi, a very good fish for grilling. That’s Yellow rated, as is the grouper, flounder and sole we will be getting in.
We expect to see many more new items coming in that may introduce our customers to fish they’ve never had before. It’s a process. The warehouse can’t just turn on a dime, because they have to get the assurances and checks and balances in place to make sure the fish is what the suppliers say it is.
This shows that we’re following the Responsible Choice initiative letter by letter. We’re not taking shortcuts or just assuming it’s right. Hy-Vee’s commitment is more than just words.
By taking a proactive stand and role with our Responsible Choice seafood program, Hy-Vee is having a positive impact on the environment and ecosystem, step by step.
We are very committed to this. An important first step in that commitment involves educating our employees, so they can educate our customers, who have been clear that they want to know where their food comes from and how it’s being handled and raised.
We’re able to tell them that we’ve already made a difference in educating our suppliers and helping them to think differently about how fish is caught and raised. They’ve listened, and any time people become more aware, change occurs. This is also about the livelihoods of fishermen, because making changes ensures they will have a market for their catches in the future.
Changes won’t occur overnight, but any time you make improvements, you are helping. And any time you think about it, you are helping. I truly believe that any time you think about it as a retailer sourcing fish or as a consumer buying their catch, you’re having an impact. We make changes with our purchasing power.
We are looking at every species and how we can make improvements. We’re constantly asking ourselves, “What can we do better?”
We’re committed, but it’s a journey. We won’t get there overnight, but we will get there.
Kenan is absolutely right.
Hy-Vee’s purchasing power is making some changes on the water with more responsible sourcing. It’s already reducing bycatch and preventing overfishing to ensure seafood will be available for future generations to enjoy.
Because this is a brand new initiative, the changes are somewhat theoretical. But Hy-Vee is definitely leading the way and if all grocery chains in the United States had similar programs, the results would be more immediately quantifiable.
Some of the changes are showing up in the Hy-Vee seafood cases. They’ve dropped some notoriously overfished species, such as Atlantic cod, whose populations have been all but depleted by unsustainable practices. Also gone are some species of rock fish, which are long living and slow to mature. Allowing them to reach maturity means their populations will have a chance to recover.
Changes in harvesting is also minimizing damage to the ecosystem in other ways. Certain fishing methods are relatively unselective and practices are changing. Hy-Vee’s tuna supplier, for example, eliminated long lines with a thousand hooks and replaced them with poles with a single hook, which means fewer sea birds, sea turtles, juvenile tuna and other incidental species are being caught.
We’re also seeing a switch from bottom trawling, or the use of a heavy net to catch species such as shrimp, cod, sole and flounder that reside on the sea floor. The net scoops up everything in its path, from fish to corals, and tears up the habitat young fish need to survive.
These may seem like small steps, but they are important steps. Cumulatively, they are making a difference.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At Hy-Vee, we’ve made a commitment to consumers and to the industry to responsibly source all of our fresh and Hy-Vee brand frozen seafood by the end of 2015. In the long-run, our sourcing standards mean healthier oceans and better seafood.
We think this commitment to sustainable seafood is both a corporate responsibility and a continuation of Hy-Vee’s policy to respond to consumer demand. Our job is to do the right thing. It’s part of our mantra and our brand to do the right thing for the environment and sea life. We think that’s important, and it’s becoming more and more evident that our customers are concerned with where their food comes from, how it’s raised and how it’s caught.
Customers will be able to see our commitment through our Responsible Choice labeling, shelf strips and other signage in the fresh seafood case and on our frozen Hy-Vee brand fish.
When I talk to customers about sourcing sustainable seafood or, as we call it, responsible choice seafood, they usually have three questions:
- What does responsible sourcing mean?
It means purchasing seafood from fisheries and fish farms that minimize damage to the environment and other sea life, so we can ensure it will be around for future generations to enjoy.
- Why is Hy-Vee doing this?
It’s simple. Hy-Vee is committed to doing the right thing. It’s the right thing for the people who work in the seafood industry and it’s the right thing for the environment. It’s a good thing for Hy-Vee, it’s a good thing for the customers and it’s a good thing for the people we do business with.
- If it doesn’t have Responsible Choice on the label, is it OK to eat?
Absolutely. We’re working with our vendors to make positive changes to improve the sustainability of fisheries and farms that do not yet meet our responsible sourcing commitment. However, It’s important to not to confuse this with quality. We’ve always stood for quality and we are always going to have great quality seafood.
This is more about taking care of the environment and protecting the long-term viability of seafood species, and to make sure that happens – at least on our watch.