Buy-Low Foods is the first chain in North America to agree to sell only sustainable fish and seafood, says president Daniel Bregg.
The decision came after two years of working with SeaChoice, and a coalition of four NGOs, including the David Suzuki Foundation.
Buy-Low's has 37 corporate stores across B.C. and Alberta, as well as two franchise grocers. All locations have stopped selling all fresh and frozen red-listed "Avoid" seafood, including popular water-penned farmed salmon, certain tuna and King Crab.
The distinction came as a bit of a surprise, Bregg said, but a happy one. The company had been encouraged by customers seeking sustainable fish, and Bregg credits his meat merchandising manager, Glen Genereux, for quarterbacking the move, as well as the work of SeaChoice.
READ: SeaChoice ends partnership with Overwaitea
The biggest challenge, Bregg says, was educating staff and consumers about sustainable fish and seafood. Information was spread to customers through discussions and leaflets, and staff were charged with helping customers understand the process and advantages.
Retailers wishing to follow suit need not dedicate substantial resources to the shift to sustainable, says Lana Brandt, national manager of SeaChoice.
The conservation organization does most of the heavy lifting, she says, sitting down with grocers to help them source sustainable fish and seafood.
READ: School of fish: Educating staff about seafood sustainability
“Buy-Low replaced farmed salmon with mostly wild salmon,” says Brandt, but land-based, closed containment salmon are also considered a healthy, environmentally-friendly source.
Salmon, tuna, shrimp and snapper have issues surrounding their procurement and cultivation, but SeaChoice says alternatives exist for all the fish. Snapper is often mislabeled, sometime inadvertently, so retailers and even distributors aren’t certain what fish they’re selling.
SeaChoice uses a green, yellow and red colour system to designate sustainable seafood. While green signifies the best choice, red should be avoided.
Bregg says the store coded their seafood before removing all red or “Avoid” products so that customers became used to seeing the tags and had time to understand them.
READ: Safeway tops Greenpeace seafood supermarket ranking
Being on the West Coast and close to fresh wild salmon gives the chain an advantage, Bregg admits. He says that while the crab they are now selling is less expensive than the red-tagged crab previously sold, other items are more expensive. But he says, fish prices fluctuate seasonally and customers adjust. And going sustainable not only helps save the oceans but is good long-term business.
Brandt says going sustainable takes some work but is not a financial burden for stores. Rather, Brandt says, stores can capitalize on going sustainable by being seen as ecologically minded and showing concern for their customers by not offering farmed choices that some insist contain health hazards.