PORTLAND, ORE. — Fishpeople is on a mission to “change consumers’ relationship with the sea.” The Portland-based seafood company is committed to sustainably harvesting all the fish it uses in its products from the United States.
|Duncan Berry, co-founder and v.p. of innovation at Fishpeople|
“Out of the 100 plus species humans harvest in the Pacific Northwest, we as a brand have determined a very small subset of those will be around for our grandchildren and great grandchildren, so we are focused strictly on those 10 species that have a sustainable relationship with us,” said Duncan Berry, co-founder and vice-president of innovation at Fishpeople. “The stock and the habitats and the catch methods we’re using are very important.”
Fishpeople’s products have appeared in a few local and regional stores, but Mr. Berry said he knew that, to truly make a difference in the realm of sustainable seafood, he needed to be backed by the big box.
“I have a lot of friends who, when I told them I was going to Wal-Mart with this, were quizzical about it,” Mr. Berry said. “I told them, ‘Look, we’ve got a very definable problem in the ocean and we are it. We are the apex predator. If we don’t enlist the entity that’s buying 38% of groceries, we’re not going to make it.”
So Mr. Berry approached Wal-Mart’s chief executive officer with Fishpeople’s story, hoping he would take the bait.
“I reached out to him and said, ‘We’re part of a sustainable revolution in fisheries on the West coast,” Mr. Berry said. “There’s a new consumer out there that’s caring about a lot of things they didn’t use to care about in the fisheries industry. We’re aware of your history of being American-based and changing industries. Would you like to explore a potential strategic relationship?’”
Fifty-two minutes later, Mr. Berry said, he received an email from Wal-Mart’s head of global seafood and meat saying they might have an opportunity together.
“That one of the largest c.e.o.s in the world would do that … that’s a remarkable story about being open that I’ve never found matched by any other business I’ve ever dealt with,” Mr. Berry said.
After a nine month preparation period, the three-year-old company shipped its first product to Wal-Mart in June 2015. Since then, Fishpeople has gained coast to coast distribution and tripled its employee personnel to meet the demand. The company now provides 10 stock-keeping units (s.k.u.s) for Wal-Mart, including fillets like Teriyaki Ginger Keta Salmon, Lime Cilantro Albacore Tuna and Dill Butter Keta Salmon Teriyaki.
|Cindi Marsiglio, v.p. of U.S. manufacturing at Wal-Mart|
“Fishpeople started up in the Northwest as more of a regional thing, but now they’re going into 3,100 stores across the U.S.,” said Cindi Marsiglio, vice-president of U.S. manufacturing at Wal-Mart. “They have offered a good product, a great price, great quality and are a good example of how you can begin at Wal-Mart in a small way if your manufacturing and distribution is not ready for full scale and how you can grow into the majority of our chain. It’s exciting growth for Fishpeople.”
Ms. Marsiglio said Fishpeople fits perfectly into Wal-Mart’s plan to source $250 billion dollars in U.S.-made products by 2023 as well as its commitment to sustainability, which Fishpeople believes go hand-in-hand.
“We 100% source everything from basically Northern California to the Arctic Circle,” Mr. Berry said. “It’s all processed here on shore or sometimes in ships. You know, ninety per cent of the seafood companies catch in coastal communities in this country goes somewhere else. It goes to other countries. And 90% of the seafood we eat in this country is from foreign countries. That’s what we call bad math. When we talk about sustainability, we need to sustain ourselves literally. We believe Americans should be catching food and feeding other Americans that food rather than people on the other side of the planet … for a lot of reasons but primarily because most of the coastal regions are impoverished. So let’s make furniture not ship logs is essentially the metaphor. Our products do that. That’s the human piece of the sustainability. We’re sustaining coastal communities and each other by feeding our fellow countrymen.”
The other part of sustainability for Fishpeople is sustainable harvesting, mainly in using proper catch methods for each species.
“A great example is how we harvest Albacore tuna,” Mr. Berry said. “One of the interesting things about them is they don’t come to shore. They’re far offshore, so it takes a long time to get to them, which limits the amount of predation that happens. Then instead of using large nets, which are used in other parts of the world and have really decimated certain species populations, we use hook and line only. So these are caught individually one at a time. A human, by hand, hand over hand, pulls the line and swings that tuna over his head and into the boat. So this is hunter-gatherer stuff. This is not like automated farming.”
In most of Fishpeople’s products, consumers may even learn the location, captain, vessel, and catch method of the fish they are eating by typing the package’s code into the “track your pouch” feature on the company’s web site.
“That’s new, that’s groundbreaking,” Mr. Berry said. “We’ve done it from day one. Wal-Mart’s bag that has individually vacuum-packed fish portions in it is the first nationally distributed product that we are aware of that has the actual captain, actual vessel of the fish you hold in your hand. This is taking farmer’s market to scale.”
But living up to Wal-Mart’s sustainability standards isn’t always smooth sailing. Mr. Berry said Wal-Mart requires Fishpeople to consistently prove that its catch methods are sustainable and they must operate in Global Food Safety Initiative facilities. He said Wal-Mart is the company’s most rigorous retail partner.
“We have pretty lofty sustainability goals here at Wal-Mart, and it’s very much engrained in our business,” Ms. Marsiglio said. “Fishpeople are not only a U.S. manufacturing success story but they also are sustainable in how they’re harvesting and processing. They hit both responsibility areas for our company that we’re investing in.”
Another responsibility area for Wal-Mart is waste reduction, and Mr. Berry said the two companies are working together to eliminate food waste from Fishpeople’s process to meet Wal-Mart’s ultimate goal of zero waste.
“Wal-Mart was very interested in the idea of us taking waste and bringing it back into their stores,” Mr. Berry said. “What we’re doing is capturing a lot of the waste that comes off the back end of our seafood and bringing it back into their stores in the form of — at this point — premium pet food. So there’s no waste. They challenged us; we didn’t bring that to them. So this waste will go to a lot of different uptakes. Fish waste is used in a variety of products, from nutraceuticals to fertilizers to pet food. We’re just getting this ramped up and creating some of these products together. It shows that they’re much more progressive than a lot of other retailers.”
Mr. Berry said he is excited to see how Fishpeople’s partnership with Wal-Mart progresses and how their commitment to sustainability and transparency will positively affect the food industry.“Wal-Mart is playing a large role in the food transparency movement by doing this,” he said. “This is setting the bar for protein in general but specifically our industry. I love that it’s them doing it, because that means that, if it’s appreciated at the big box level, that shows how deep it’s become, and that’s very hopeful.”