Seafood Insight: Brakes raises sustainability bar in foodservice
As part of its awards programme for 2014, our UK team present Seafood Insight, a new series of interviews with seafood industry insiders. These are the people who provide sustainable seafood for our supermarkets, restaurants, hospitals and schools.
For the first of our exclusive interviews we spoke to Natalie Phillips, Category Manager Fish & Seafood at catering suppliers Brakes, winners of the 2014 MSC UK Seafood Supplier of the Year award.
What is the role of the foodservice sector in sustainability and what impact can it have in raising the bar?
Brakes was the first foodservice company to offer customers MSC certified fish and seafood 10 years ago. In that respect right from the start we’ve been at the forefront of sustainability.
We now have more than 100 MSC-certified products and we will continue to look for ways to expand the variety of species on offer. Some 20% of the fish and seafood we sell is now MSC certified, but we are always looking for ways to expand the MSC range.
If food service suppliers such as ourselves are selling sustainable seafood that will have a positive impact in both directions in the supply chain – on our suppliers and the customers we’re selling to.
Our customer base is highly varied – we’re working with everyone from schools to Michelin starred restaurants, and their needs differ greatly. So it’s about making a sustainable range that covers the requirements of all of our customers.
We work proactively with our supplier base to make sure we can buy MSC from them at every opportunity. There is recognition in the industry that we need to protect future stocks of seafood.
Brakes has made a long-term and concerted commitment to MSC-certified seafood; what are the greatest challenges to keeping those commitments?
The challenge is around species and availability from one year to the next; species that were plentiful might have quotas restricted or another situation may arise that changes supply. That means working with our customers to ensure that we can switch them to more sustainable species.
Haddock has been a challenge in the industry over the last 9 months or so. Quotas were restricted on haddock which has meant supply nowhere near meets demand, so we have been supporting our customers in helping them switch to alternative species.
We also have challenges in regional preferences. For example, haddock is very popular in Scotland so it was much more of a challenge to encourage the Scottish market to switch, but we’ve managed it successfully. MSC-certified species, such as pollock, offer a good value alternative to haddock.
Having a large number of MSC products allows us to offer a wider range to customers, such as salmon, pollock and prawns, and spreads the burden on specific species.
We constantly monitor the situation in the marketplace and make sure that we are supporting species that are sustainable and not putting too much pressure on the popular ones.
How do you help suppliers and consumers join the dots to help them see the big picture of the impact of choice on the supply of sustainable seafood.
Consumers are becoming more and more aware of sustainability through television and the media so that when they go out to eat, they’re looking for sustainable fish and seafood on the menu.
As the eating out of home market increases, foodservice is becoming just as important as retail. It also seems that fish and seafood consumption in pubs and restaurants is on the rise.
We can make sure that when people are eating out or at work, or school or whatever, that we are able to provide a sustainable choice.
What trends have you noticed so far in 2014?
Some suppliers have told us that pollock is over taking cod in popularity, driven by the fact that it is almost all MSC certified and represents good value.
We’re also seeing an impact from two government initiatives: universal school meals from September, and the new School Foods Standards that come into effect from January 2015. We anticipate an increase in demand for our products and have also adjusted our range to fit with these new requirements.
Policy changes do have a lot of influence but it’s important that any insight we can give as large food service providers is taken on board. We’ll be working across the supply chain so we’ll have a real opportunity to influence what happens as a result of the initiative.
But overall, there’s surprisingly little data to help us forecast trends in the industry; a lot of the food service data that we can work with is very much retail led. We work with suppliers to gain their insight into what they’re seeing, and also our general experience as consumers, if we’re out dining…what do we believe is the next big thing?
What does it mean to Brakes to be recognised for its efforts by winning the Fish Supplier of the Year 2014 award?
We actively promote MSC wherever possible and our recent award win is something we’re very proud of. It’s fantastic to have the recognition and was one of the highlights cited by our CEO for the year so far.
While the end consumer probably doesn’t realise the efforts we are making to source sustainably, I believe our direct customers are aware. We will be featuring a logo saying that we are the MSC Fish Supplier of the Year on all of our MSC product packaging from September.
The ecolabel is an excellent marketing tool, it’s easily recognisable. It resonates throughout the supply chain and consumers will recognise it when they eat out.
We’re strongly committed to expanding our range and working as closely as we can with the MSC and I would only hope that we will see the range of MSC products grow and grow. And I hope as well that we might win again next year.
What next for Brakes when it comes to MSC-certified fish and seafood?
We work very closely with the MSC to ensure that we are promoting the best options and when I’m choosing which products to promote that month, I’m making sure that there’s a broad spectrum of products from fish cakes to prawns to uncoated fish so there’s a choice for customers.
We’ll shortly be launching some new fish cakes and two of those are MSC certified, and we are also looking at our white fish range. About 20% of our seafood volume is certified and there’s definitely scope to increase that proportion. If there’s an opportunity to switch from a standard product to an MSC certified product we’ll look to do so.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Working in this role has really opened my eyes to the pressures that can be caused by consumption of fish and seafood on species out in the oceans. I really do feel passionately about having the widest selection of sustainable species available. If other companies can be as committed as we are to sustainability then that’s only going to help with the future of sustainable seafood.
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