Greenpeace Ranks Grocers On Seafood Sustainability, And Its Findings Are Surprising

August 20, 2018

Greenpeace Ranks Grocers On Seafood Sustainability, And Its Findings Are Surprising

In this years Carting Away the Ocean report from Greenpeace just four grocery retailers received ratings earning them the green "leadership" designation.

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A supermarket known for its sustainability practices, a Midwestern conventional supermarket, a discount supermarket known for its private labels and cheap prices, and a mass merchandiser took the top four slots and earned the "leadership" rating in this year’s Carting Away the Oceans report from Greenpeace.

Ten years ago, Greenpeace started evaluating 20 major supermarket retailers on their seafood sustainability practices based on four criteria: Policy, Initiatives, Labeling & Transparency, and Inventory.

The policy score is based on how the retailer establishes and enforces standards for its purchasing decisions to responsibly source seafood across its fresh, frozen and shelf stable categories. The initiative score is based on the retailer’s efforts to improve fisheries management through its policies and taken action to reduce their plastics footprint. The labeling and transparency score evaluates online and in-store communications to consumers as well as capturing transparency information from suppliers. The last score is based on what Greenpeace calls its “red list” of 26 commonly sold species and how the retailer’s offerings rank against Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch recommendations.

2018 Supermarket Sustainability Seafood Rankings by GREENPEACE

In the first report, published in June 2008, not one retailer received a score of 40 or above, the criterion for a passing grade. Ten years later, 20 out of 22 retailers achieved a score of 40 or higher. Of the four top scoring chains, which Greenpeace refers to as leading the seafood sustainability movement, Whole Foods received a score of 80.4, Hy-Vee earned a 79.8, ALDI came in at 71.9, and Target scored a 70.8.

The one disturbing finding reported in Carting Away the Oceans (CATO) is that not one of the profiled retailers have made major, comprehensive commitments to reduce and ultimately phase out their reliance on single-use plastics. (I would expect that with the plastic straw movement quickly gaining momentum across foodservice operators, in next year’s report we will see a very different result on supermarkets’ single-use plastics initiatives). Greenpeace says that “the equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic enters our oceans every minute, and with plastic production set to double in the next 20 years – largely for packaging – the threats to ocean biodiversity and seafood supply chains are increasing.”

Brett Bremser, a Hy-Vee executive vice president and the chief merchandising officer, told me in an interview this morning that CEO Randy Edeker “has challenged Hy-Vee to be a company to do good, lead others in the industry, and that it is the reasonable thing to do.” When asked about the findings of the CATO report, he said that Hy-Vee's sustainability goals are to continue to evolve its practices, initiate more zero-waste initiatives and reduce its use of plastics.

Bremser takes seriously the responsibility to speak out about the challenges in the industry and is proud to be the only conventional supermarket chain ranked in the leadership category in Greenpeace’s rankings. In addition to the No. 2 ranking, Hy-Vee was also awarded more performance badges than the other leadership winners: category winner for Labeling and Transparency, Canned Tuna, for selling only sustainable private-label canned tuna, and Initiatives Winner for its supply chain audits to ensure its sourcing is in compliance with its standards.

Whole Foods received two performance badges: Policy Winner and also for its Canned Tuna. Of the 22 retailers scored, just three — Whole Foods, Hy-Vee and Meijer — sell only sustainable private-label canned tuna.

The CATO report lists five ways that grocery retailers must lead:

  1. Create a strong, time-bound, publicly available sustainable seafood policy.
  2. Take action to stop forced labor, labor abuse and IUU fishing.
  3. Reduce tour plastic footprint.
  4. Support initiatives and advocate for positive change for our oceans and seafood workers.
  5. Increase transparency through data, chain of custody and education.

On the rankings, it's also important to note that Trader Joe’s dropped seven spots because of its lack of follow-through on initiatives that it had previously announced it would implement and lack of customer engagement. Price Chopper dropped six spots for underperforming on initiatives and transparency, and Wakefern (Shop Rite), the largest retailer cooperative in the nation, dropped five spots, into the No. 22 position, and was awarded the Wrong Way badge for its lack of transparency online and for not responding to Greenpeace’s survey.