Consumers difficult to engage as Loblaw attempts to establish a fully sustainable fishery

Daniel MacEachern
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The executive chairman of Loblaw says partnerships are the key to establishing a 100 per cent sustainable fishery — with government, industry and non-governmental organizations.

Loblaw executive chairman Galen Weston speaks at the 2013 World Seafood Congress at the Delta Hotel on Monday morning.
— Photo by Daniel MacEachern/The Telegram

But Galen Weston — speaking at the 2013 World Seafood Congress at the Delta Hotel on Monday morning — said engaging shoppers has been a big challenge for his company since it decided to pursue its goal of completely sustainable seafood sourcing.

The store is working towards its goal of being able to certify that all the seafood it sells has been raised through aquaculture or caught without harming the ecosystem or harming a species’ ability to maintain healthy population levels.

“Back in 2009, just after the economic crisis, there was still an enormous wave of enthusiasm on the part of the Canadian consumer in support of sustainability initiatives,” said Weston.

But the importance of sustainable agriculture has held more traction with the Canadian public so far than fishery and aquaculture initiatives, he said.

“But because seafood happens far away from many people in the population of Canada — obviously, not people here — and because it happens under the sea, people don’t really get a chance to see what’s going on, how things are caught, and some of the challenges around bycatch and the like.”

Loblaw launched education programs in schools and in-store signage — including empty trays to represent at-risk species — in its dozens of locations across the country and still only managed to “engage somewhere below five per cent of the customer base,” he said.

Weston said he expected more enthusiasm and interest, but they failed. Greater success was found in working with the fishing industry, he told the crowd.

“When we made our commitment clear, people came to the table almost right away. Not everyone, but many people came to the table almost right away with recommendations, ideas, solutions — how do we make the fisheries, how do we source more sustainably,” he said

“And if there was a big retailer in Canada making a commitment to buy product, then we’ve created a market opportunity for sustainable seafood sourcing that really didn’t exist before, and created a wave of energy and effort on behalf of the fisheries and the processors.

Loblaw’s goal is to achieve its goal by the end of the year, which includes chain-of-custody certification for its distribution centres and to identify remaining at-risk species and stocks as well as fisheries and farms that can’t or won’t meet its criteria for sustainable certification.

Melanie Agopian, Loblaw’s senior director of sustainability, said the message is starting to get through with continued efforts to educate shoppers of the store’s work, including labelling certified products. But it’s still a challenge.

“Sustainable seafood is relatively low on the list of issues when it comes to corporate social responsibility in the consumer’s mind and some of the testing that we’ve done,” she said.

“Things like food waste or packaging reduction are higher up on the list than something like sustainable seafood, so that’s probably one of the other reasons why consumers are maybe not as engaged with the issues.”

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Loblaw, World Seafood Congress, Delta Hotel

Geographic location: Canada

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