Good for sustainable fishing, good for business

Need for increased consumer awareness of sustainable seafood leads Bumble Bee Seafoods to launch MSC certified Wild Selections® brand

Like many food companies sourcing from the natural environment, Bumble Bee Seafoods, a leading North American seafood company, has a compelling reason to support responsible global fisheries management. If there isn't a sustainable fish supply, then there isn't a sustainable seafood business. However, in order to give consumers a reason to pay a premium for a certified sustainably sourced fish, Bumble Bee Seafoods needed to educate and engage consumers in North America about the benefits of sustainable sourcing.

Identifying the need for change

Bumble Bee Seafoods had long been involved in supporting and promoting conservation efforts for global tuna stocks. As a founder of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) in 2009, it had worked alongside WWF, global scientists, tuna processors and other leaders in promoting marine resource management.

Todd Newman, Vice-President of Emerging Categories at Bumble Bee Seafoods, recalls:

"Sustainability had become an integral part of our business but in 2012, those conversations shifted to the need to drive change by raising consumer awareness of the importance of seafood sustainability. It was through our continuing work in global fisheries we saw the unique opportunity to introduce a line of certified products. We wondered, how can we leverage a branded product to educate the trade and consumers?"

Good business opportunity

Bumble Bee Seafoods already had a commitment to source 100% of its tuna from sustainable fisheries, so why create a new product line? Todd Newman explains: "Growing interest from the trade and consumers for eco-labelled tuna meant that there was an attractive business opportunity.

Within the industry, there is a lot of different messaging about sustainability that is frankly confusing to most. It's difficult to penetrate that if you are a consumer. We wanted to influence that conversation with retailers and consumers. We felt that some of the product messaging was not helping the sustainability issue. There wasn't a player that was directly addressing the supply side and others were just making claims without substantiation so the importance of a credible label was critical."

In April 2013 Bumble Bee Seafoods, launched Wild Selections®, a new high-quality branded line of products that carry the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) ecolabel for sustainable, wildcaught seafood.

This new line was designed to provide consumers with the confidence that their seafood was sustainably caught as well as give them the opportunity to contribute to improving the health of the world's oceans.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Wild Selections® supports WWF's efforts to protect marine life and expand sustainable fishing practices globally and helps build continued awareness of MSC certified sustainable seafood. Wild Selections® product range includes MSC certified albacore, lightmeat tuna, salmon, shrimp and sardines.

The Wild Selections® branding and packaging includes the WWF logo and MSC eco-label, providing consumers with the opportunity to support fisheries and marine conservation efforts while making an informed choice in wild-caught seafood.

Tangible impact

Todd Newman said: "We wanted to put the highest quality and most objective sustainable sourcing together. WWF supports the MSC Standard as the gold standard for sustainability. It is the only third-party, consumer facing eco-label based on UN FAO guidelines and compliant with ISEAL requirements on sustainable fishing and we felt it was watertight when it comes to potential critics.

Being a large seafood company we are under the microscope more than smaller brands so wanted to make sure we were doing it well and had a credible and sustainable story for the positive impact of our brand. Our long term goal is to catalyse sustainability initiatives on the water that can have a direct impact on the supply of wild seafood a generation from now."

"The ecolabelled canned seafood category is roughly doubling each year in the U.S., so the growth is very attractive but it is still emerging and it is a small business opportunity today. Ecolabelled seafood still represents less than 2% of the more than $2bn mainstream shelf stable seafood category.

Our reason for being is the sustainability mission of the Wild Selections® brand, so the credentials of our MSC certification and WWF partner were and remain the primary pillars of our branding and marketing efforts."

Increased traceability, enhanced credibility

Global seafood markets are increasingly demanding credible, independent certification and full traceability of their seafood choices. Bumble Bee Seafoods chose MSC certification to provide that assurance.

"The MSC ecolabel means that a seafood product can be traced back through every step in the supply chain to a sustainable, MSC certified fishery," said Geoff Bolan, MSC's U.S. Program Director. "These fisheries have been independently assessed against the science-based MSC Fisheries Standard, which reflects global best practice for sustainable fishing. By looking for and choosing MSC labelled products, such as Bumble Bee Seafoods' Wild Selections line, consumers are able to reward sustainable fishing practices and contribute to the health of the world's oceans. The sustainable seafood commitment of Bumble Bee Seafoods is helping to safeguard seafood supplies for this and future generations."

Todd Newman states: "By participating in the MSC programme, you can trace the fish from catch to can and know there is certification in every point in the supply chain. This gives credibility with retailers who have pressure from NGOs to make sure they are good stewards of the food supply.

MSC is well recognised and chosen by retailers to provide assurance. More and more retailers are incorporating some degree of MSC sourcing into seafood policies so the Wild Selections® brand is well positioned to meet these needs."

Educating consumers

The confusion of seafood certification labelling in North America and the opportunities for credible standards to build market momentum led to a new brand with clear consumer messaging.

"Consumer awareness and education is our primary marketing aim. We're giving the mainstream tuna shopper the opportunity to trade up to an ecolabelled product when they see the brand or MSC ecolabel. For this reason, while we support any credible ecolabel, we made the choice to have just one certification, MSC and one partner, WWF and create a credible, recognisable brand."

Newman continues "We're educating consumers about sustainable seafood in store, via retailers and through social and digital media. And it's working - consumers are switching a percentage of their tuna sales from regular to Wild Selections®. Our distribution has exceed my expectations. Wild Selections® is now represented in 41% of the mainstream retail channel and we haven't had our second anniversary yet."

And the future? "We would love to have the level of success where we're catalysing the adoption of MSC. In reality, while there isn't currently enough MSC certified supply, eventually we would like to see the number of fisheries certified to the MSC Standard, and therefore the quantity of certified seafood, grow from around 10% of the global wild-capture harvest today. It's the right thing to do for the environment, as well as securing the future of our business."

Originally published 2014