Target Teams Up to Make Seafood Sustainable

target-seafood-headerWhen Nic Berkeland took over as Target’s senior seafood buyer a few years ago, he faced a major challenge. Nic and partner Gry Engen, senior buyer, owned brands, were tasked with leading a team that would make Target’s entire fresh and frozen seafood assortment sustainably sourced—a rare move in the retail industry at the time—and the clock was ticking.

Back in 2011, Target set a goal to have our entire fresh and frozen seafood assortment sustainable, traceable, or in a time-bound improvement process by the end of fiscal 2015. Since then, Nic, Gry and their teams worked closely with environmental partner FishWise, trusted vendors and other stakeholders, to develop a comprehensive sustainable seafood program with strict guidelines that every fresh or frozen seafood product we sell must meet.

Today, we’re proud to say we’ve made it 97 percent of the way to our goal, and that we’ve already achieved it for 100 percent of our owned-brand seafood products. And we’re still pushing ahead to achieve full compliance across the remaining products later this year.

But the milestone didn’t come easily. “It really was an industry-leading project,” Nic says. “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 vendors, it 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,” Gry says. “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 …?” There were days when finishing the project in time 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,” Gry remembers. “This work is going to help so many people eat better.”

“The partnership with FishWise made things really seamless,” Nic says. “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.”

The result, over time, was Target’s sustainable seafood guidelines. Products that meet our guidelines are 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 along with Target’s strict social compliance policies that ensure products are produced ethically and in accordance with local laws.

“Thanks to the efforts of multiple Target teams, FishWise, and too many external stakeholders and vendors to mention individually, Target has come extraordinarily close to fully meeting its 2015 Responsible Seafood Commitment,” says William Wall, distributor division director, FishWise. “I am very confident that Target will continue to build on this success, thereby maintaining their leadership position within the retail space.”

Since Greenpeace’s annual “Carting Away the Oceans” report was first released in 2008, Target has maintained a top 10 position, putting us among the top tier of U.S. supermarkets that are addressing the major social and environmental concerns associated with seafood.

Though this milestone is a big one, operating sustainably isn’t something new for Target—we’ve been working to improve social and environmental impact through our product design and development, manufacturing and operations for years.

“Today, sustainability is a major factor in decisions we make across our business,” says Amanda Irish, vice president, owned brand essentials, Target. “We aim to act as a progressive force for curating sustainable products, so we can create long-term value that goes beyond Target and into our communities.”

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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.