The Co-Operative – 2010 Seafood Champion
The Co-operative traces its roots back to 1844 and is now the United Kingdom’s leading mutual retailer. It is democratically run by its members in order to meet their common needs and aspirations. In turn, the strength and commitment of the membership is vital in helping The Co-operative achieve its goals. Instead of blindly chasing profits, like some shareholder-controlled businesses, The Co-operative steers its business in a more responsible direction.
In addition to its 3,000 food stores, The Co-operative’s family of businesses includes banking, insurance, travel, funerals, pharmacy, farming and even motor dealerships. It was recently ranked as the number one sustainable seafood retailer in the United Kingdom by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS). Only fish from certified, responsible sources is used for Co-operative brand products, whether the fish is: fresh, frozen or canned; from natural fillets or prepared products; or used as an ingredient. The Co-operative has eliminated all fish from the MCS Good Fish Guide’s Fish to Avoid list from its brand of products, and it has the largest percentage of sales from the MCS’s Fish to Eat list.
Seafood Choices: What’s the most popular seafood item that you sell?
The Co-Operative: Our most popular selling fish species is salmon. We sell pink, red and chum wild Pacific salmon from MSC-accredited fisheries in Alaska, and farmed Atlantic salmon from selected farms in Scotland. Salmon, in all its forms, accounts for nearly 30 percent of our own-brand fish sales.
How did you get interested in the issue of sustainable seafood?
The Co-operative’s Food Ethical Policy was launched in 2007, following the world’s largest consumer poll on ethics. Over 100,000 of our members and customers indicated that animal welfare and the environment were key priorities, so we have responded by developing a policy ensuring all our own-brand fish are responsibly sourced.
As a responsible retailer, we have to address the fact that dwindling stocks and poor fishing practices are real concerns. The Co-operative shares the objectives of all concerned in the fishing industry—that supplies of fish need to be protected for the long term, by means of sustainable fisheries management practices.
How would you describe your philosophy on ocean conservation?
The Co-operative is mindful of the diverse environmental and ecological issues associated with the capture of wild fish for the table. Issues which affect both the biological sustainability of the target species and which have wider ecosystem impacts, such as overfishing and illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, and fishing methods which are destructive to the sea bed and marine habitats, are all of concern to us and to our customers.
In view of these complex challenges to the responsible sourcing of wild-captured fish, The Co-operative operates a strict policy to monitor and control its fish supplies. The Co-operative has devised a unique method of assessing fish supplies, taking into account all of these issues and, wherever possible, based on scientific information and advice.
This bespoke system examines in detail each product—by species, by fishery and by catching method—so we can clearly identify those species, fisheries and fishing methods which must be avoided, and those which should be selected.
How has your philosophy changed what fish you sell?
Each species of fish sold by The Co-operative was identified. Not just fresh and frozen fish fillets, but all fish in ready meals, sandwiches, cans, salads and even in obscure products such as prawn crackers. Each species was then analyzed using four key areas—biology, science, stock management and environment—and scored against a range of factors.
The final scores allowed us to determine the sustainability status of each fish species by source and fishing method. Where serious concerns existed about the level of fish currently being taken, the methods used or the lack of a proper management regime to preserve stocks, its use was banned.
If any Co-operative-brand products were using fish from the banned list, the product was either reformulated and the raw material re-sourced from an acceptable fishery (such as our Healthy Living Fish Pie, now using Icelandic line-caught haddock), or the product was withdrawn from sale (for example our prawn crackers using wild-caught, warm-water prawns).
Have your customers noticed?
Consumers are becoming much more aware of the issues surrounding the sourcing of fish species. Regular news bulletins regarding restrictions and quotas on the catching of cod and haddock in the North Sea, together with press warnings of fish shortages, have done much to raise awareness of the issues.
The Co-operative recognises that our customers trust us, and look to us to be at the forefront of moves to protect the environment and to promote animal welfare. The development of our responsible fish sourcing policy cements our long-standing commitment to these issues. As a result of the work we have done in this area, sales in 2009 have increased by 56 percent.
Do you feel it limits what you can offer?
Not at all, the radically overhauled own-brand range, following the launch of our Responsible Fish Sourcing Policy, included 30 brand new fish lines, across fresh and frozen, including The Co-operative South African Hake Provencale and The Co-operative Lightly Dusted Haddock.
The range contains awell-balanced profile ofspecies offering customers a diverse choice, which should encourage them to try different types of seafood—such as pollock and mackerel—as part of their recommendedtwo servings a week.
The responsible sourcing policy applies to fish in any form, across the whole Co-operative brand, whether it’s a piece of cod or a salmon sandwich.
Have your seafood suppliers worked with you on getting sustainably caught seafood?
We work with a select group of suppliers who have demonstrated that they operate the highest levels of good practice, source from well-managed fisheries and are actively avoiding vulnerable species. All Co-operative suppliers are subject to thorough audit and inspection, on a regular basis, to ensure compliance. We do not source fish where the origin or method of catch is unknown.
What trends have you noticed in seafood in the past 10 years?
Customers want good quality, and good value, but at the same time they are becoming increasingly aware of issues of sustainability and welfare. They expect retailers such as The Co-operative to take a responsible attitude to those issues, so they can buy seafood with confidence while still getting good value for their money.
***Seafood Choices does make recommendations regarding the number of seafood servings that should be eaten each week.
Posted June 28, 2010