retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB took note yesterday of a USA Today report that Whole Foods has launched “a new color-coded rating program - with the help of  Monterey Bay Aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute - that measures the environmental impact of its wild-caught seafood ... Similar to a stoplight, seafood is given a green, yellow or red rating. A green rating indicates the species is relatively abundant and is caught in environmentally friendly ways. Yellow means some concerns exist with the species' status or the methods by which it was caught. And a red rating means the species is suffering from overfishing or the methods used to catch it harm other marine life or habitats.”

My comment/question:

Is it just me, or is there something mildly inconsistent about Whole Foods even selling seafood marked with a red light? Maybe there’s a good argument for it - like the customer wants it - but that seems somewhat out of synch with the broader message and reason for having the lights to begin with.

One MNB user responded:

I certainly hope it's just you!  Whole Foods is trying to educate shoppers, not dictate to them.  That's a pretty critical distinction, I would think.

On the other hand, MNB user Jeff Folloder wrote:

Was reading the piece on Whole Foods and the traffic light approach for seafood.  I was immediately struck by the same thought as you: why would they sell something with a red "light".  And then the opportunity dawned on me... They don't have to sell *anything* with a red light to make this work.  All they have to do is *list* the red light items and show the green light replacements that they do sell.  Education, marketing and sales all at once!

And, from another MNB user:

The problem with the ratings programs is that each organization has a different definition of what is ‘red flagged’. The programs are well-intentioned but they often don’t tell the whole story. Makes it difficult for retailers to make purchase decisions. And makes it difficult for consumers to understand what’s good and what’s endangered/overfished mercury-laden/etc. No wonder so many people eat chicken!

MNB user Jessica Duffy wrote:

At first I was skeptical about the red signs too. But as I learned more about it, I became more excited. I have often chosen Cod over other white fish because it’s a local New England favorite. I had no idea that the fishing practices in this region were so damaging. I checked and found out that Pollock is a green species, so I have chosen that over the cod now, fresh and frozen (even though the rating system only applies to fish in the case). I really appreciate having the information to make a decision. It’s the same for other products. There is no question grass-fed beef is better for your health and the environment, but we still sell beef that was “grain-finished”. It’s about making a choice based on all the information. The seafood rating system will potentially create more demand for green species while simultaneously putting pressure to change harvesting methods for red species. Maybe the red species populations can be improved with this kind of consumer pressure….

Another MNB user chimed in:

I had the same reaction as you to the Whole Foods red/yellow/green seafood labeling (as in “Why even sell the red?). Maybe they could extend this labeling system to eggs: green is for cage-free, yellow is for caged, and red is for chickens held in solitary confinement!

MNB user Tom Duenow wrote:

With regard to the Red, Yellow, Green rating system for seafood you missed an important point.  The fact is there is a market for the Red rated seafood.  The red rating will educate consumers and make them think twice before selecting the red options.  The red ratings may serve to reduce the market demand for such seafood and relieve much of the pressure such species are under.  To me, this root cause solution is brilliant.

And, from yet another MNB user, a bit more cynicism:

To me the press release is moot. I have already determined that Whole Foods is an entertaining place to shop, but they are neither a natural food store or a company practicing  sustainability. They are a green marketing company and are not on my radar (as if they care).

On another subject, MNB user Philip Bradley wrote:

This is in response to the reader who wrote in and said that fruit and vegetables were too expensive, and how could we expect those in the lower socio-economic bracket to buy them.  Well, the news is that fruit and vegetables will ALWAYS be more expensive.  They can't be produced like widgets.  And organic fruit and veggies will always be even more expensive, because they cost more to grow.

As most people know, the cost of food here in the U.S. is much less than it is in Europe.  But guess what?  You see poor Europeans (at least Italians and Spaniards) buying fresh fruit and vegetables every day.  It's a question of perceived value and priorities.  As long as we see healthy food as something relatively unimportant, we won't be willing to spend what it costs to buy.  And that's unlikely to change--for one reason, when was the last time you saw a TV ad for fresh fruit and veggies?

And, on the subject of Supervalu’s latest reorganization:

In the last few years at Super Valu and the Albertsons banner, associates such as BDM’s , Category Managers, and other positions have had to interview for their jobs. Every year. What message does this send? Why doesn’t Senior Management have to interview for their positions? Who would want to work for an operator like this? Insane.
KC's View: