In 2011, Target set a goal for its entire fresh and frozen seafood assortment to be sustainable, traceable, or in a time-bound improvement process by the end of 2015. Through a partnership with consultancy FishWise, the retailer met the goal for 100% of its owned-brand seafood products, and 97% of its full seafood assortment. The remaining products are expected to achieve full compliance by the end of this year.
Led by senior seafood buyer Nic Berkeland and senior buyer for owned brands Gry Engen, Target teams worked closely with FishWise to develop a comprehensive sustainable seafood program with strict guidelines applicable to every fresh or frozen seafood product sold in the company’s stores.
“It really was an industry-leading project,” Berkeland said. “When we first started out, there weren’t a lot of suppliers whose fisheries or farms were ready, willing and able to meet our criteria on such an ambitious timeline.”
For many of Target’s vendors, this decision meant big, time-consuming changes to their operations, tracing products back to the boats the fish were caught on, and shifting business to new fisheries around the world who sourced responsibly.
“This wasn’t something that could be done in a year,” Engen added. “There were benchmarking studies, tough, strategic conversations about what products to keep, what to switch over and when — lots of planning and creative thinking. We thought in terms of baby steps: How much could we realistically complete by 2013, by 2014 …?”
Now extraordinarily close to meeting their new Responsible Seafood Commitment, Target admits that the milestone did not come easily. Engen admitted that at times meeting the goal at all seemed next to impossible. “But then I’d think—if we don’t do this, there won’t be enough fish for generations to come,” Engen recalled. “This work is going to help so many people eat better.”
Products now must be rated Green or Yellow by the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA)’s Seafood Watch program, or are from eco-certified sources deemed equivalent to an MBA Yellow rating or better. Products from sources in a credible time-bound improvement process may also qualify if they are on a demonstrable path to meeting our guidelines. Target’s team uses the guidelines alongside the company’s social compliance policies for ethical production and adherence to local laws.
“The partnership with FishWise made things really seamless,” Berkeland said. “They advised us, and connected us with the right vendors, organizations and experts to help make the best decisions for everyone involved. And the seafood community was really open to what we were doing—they knew the industry was moving toward sustainably sourced products, and that making these updates to their businesses now would help them in the future.”