By Rick Stein, Vice President, Fresh Foods, and Marjorie DePuy, Senior Director, Supply Chain and Sustainability, FMI
In honor of October, National Seafood Month, we checked in with one of our members that has been making headlines recently on the sustainable seafood front. Considering their global reach, Walmart has been making strides on sustainable seafood offerings and provides lessons learned and best practices. We spoke with Jacqui Lyons, divisional merchandise manager for seafood and seasonal meat for Walmart U.S. and Jessica Baldini, merchant for shelf stable proteins for Walmart U.S. about their work on seafood sustainability.
Question: What made Walmart focus on sustainably sourced seafood, like fresh and frozen seafood and shelf-stable tuna?
Answer: “While seafood remains an important source of protein and income for people around the world, according to the United Nations, one third of global fisheries have been fished beyond sustainable limits,” shared Lyons. “Our goal is to deliver affordable products in a way that helps conserve natural resources, and we’re taking steps toward sourcing seafood more sustainably. Since developing our official seafood policy, we have improved upon it through the years. In 2006, we began working toward sourcing certified, wild-caught seafood. Today, around 98% of our wild-caught seafood is certified sustainable or from a Fishery Improvement Project (FIP).”
“In 2016, we announced a goal to more sustainably source at least 20 key commodities by 2025, including seafood,” added Baldini. “Achieving a critical aspect of our original goal years in advance, Great Value canned tuna sourced for our Walmart U.S. stores is now certified sustainable or from a FIP, just like our fresh and frozen seafood. With Walmart’s global reach, we have a role to play in accelerating more sustainable fishing practices. And we are committed to creating a better, more sustainable seafood supply chain in collaboration with key allies.”
Question: According to FMI’s 2020 Power of Seafood report, 29% of shoppers say sustainability certifications, including MSC and others, have a major impact on their likelihood to purchase seafood, and 66% want to be more knowledgeable about seafood sustainability. Will consumer education be part of your overall seafood strategy, and if so, how?
Answer: “Thanks to studies like yours, we understand more customers are interested in knowing the seafood they purchase is certified,” said Lyons. “As a result, we launched our store signage campaign for fresh and frozen seafood to communicate more clearly to customers the quality, value and sustainability of the seafood they buy at Walmart.”
Baldini added, “Walmart’s Online Grocery is featuring sustainable seafood for the entire month of October 2020. We’re sharing online recipes, entertaining ideas, a shopping guide with information about seafood certifications and newly launched “Ready-to-Eat” meals that include high-quality, budget-friendly sustainable seafood offerings with lots of flavor.”
Lyons added, “Certification programs have their own consumer education initiatives, like the Marine Stewardship Council’s "Good for You and the Ocean Too" campaign focused on deepening understanding of their Blue Fish label and the Best Aquaculture Practices’ Instagram influencer campaign that urges dietitians and nutritionists post certified sustainable seafood recipes.”
Question: How are you tracking that your suppliers are on the path toward certification, in a Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) or Aquaculture Improvement Project (AIP)?
Answer: “To help drive change, Walmart encourages suppliers to report their progress using the Seafood Metrics System, managed by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership,” shared Lyons. “This system helps measure and track supplier performance on sustainable sourcing. Based on these supplier reports, we also share aggregated seafood data publicly through the Ocean Disclosure Project as well as Walmart’s annual ESG report.”
Question: With regards to your seafood policy compliance and marketing efforts, what has been the response from your consumers?
Answer: “People want to feel good about the products they buy, and our customers count on us to deliver access to safe, healthier and affordable products in a way that is sustainable,” shared Lyons. “That’s why Walmart encourages suppliers to certify their products and works with them to increase transparency and traceability back to products’ origins.”
Lyons continued, “Consumers are responding positively, and we are thrilled with the results of our fresh and frozen sustainable seafood marketing efforts initiated in Spring 2020. Stores running this campaign and investing in sustainable seafood space and assortment changes have seen around a 25% improvement in fresh seafood sales compared to the rest of Walmart U.S.’s chain of stores. Providing more transparency is clearly what the customer has been asking for and we will continue to find ways to do so.”
Question: I understand the decision to source from suppliers that are MSC-certified for canned tuna came from Walmart leadership and earlier than expected. How were you able to gain internal support for this significant sustainable seafood change? What recommendations or lessons learned do you have for others looking to implement more sustainable sourcing initiatives?
Answer: “Delivering great quality products in a more sustainable way takes a lot of planning and preparing across the full supply chain,” said Baldini. “After gaining internal alignment and support from Walmart’s leaders, the seafood buying team communicated the roadmap across the supply chain, which we believe was key to seeing progression and results. Being able to pull all stakeholders into a room together to learn from each other and discuss milestones, goals and challenges was – and will remain – an important step in our journey.”
Photo Credit: Walmart