Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Green Retailing Memo: Whole Foods Market Tops List in Greenpeace's Top 20 U.S. Chain Seafood Sustainability Scorecard

Whole Foods Market, Inc. may not be the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) favorite food and grocery retailer currently, but the natural grocery chain is at the top of environmental group Greenpeace's retailer hit parade, at least when it comes to seafood sustainability.

Greenpeace has named Whole Foods Market [WFMI] the number one retailer in the United States in seafood sustainability for its program of selling sustainably harvested seafood in its stores.

The newest Greenpeace report scoring retailers on the environmental responsibility of their seafood selections singles out Whole Foods Market's new quality standards for aquaculture, (farmed seafood), which have made the natural products retail chain a leader in the industry, as one of the factors in their higher score, the global environmental organization said today.

Greenpeace evaluates and ranks the major U.S. food and grocery retailers on their seafood sustainability practices, then chooses the company it believes not only has the best practice but also is engaged in continuous improvement in regard to its seafood sustainability program and merchandising.

Whole Foods was one of only (number 1) four U.S. grocery chains (Greenpeace ranked the top 20 U.S. chains) that passed the environmental organization's sustainability test. The other three chains are, in order of their scores or ranking:

2. Ahold USA, which operates the Giant Food and Stop & Shop supermarket chains.
3. Target, which only sells fresh seafood in its Super Target combination supermarket-general merchandise Supercenters.
4. Harris Teeter (supermarket chain).

The other 16 top U.S. chains failed Greenpeace's evaluative criteria. Those 16 are, ranked from best (which means they barely failed) to worst:

5. Wal-Mart
6. Safeway (Dominick's, Genuardi's, Randall's, Von's)
7. Wegmans
8. Kroger (Baker's, City Market, Dillon's, Owen's, PayLess, Ralph's,Scott's, Smith's, Quality Food Center)
9. Aldi
10. Costco
11. A&P (Food Emporium, Pathmark, Super Fresh, Waldbaum's)
12. Giant Eagle
13. Publix
14. Winn-Dixie
15. Delhaize (Bloom, Food Lion, Hannaford Bros., Sweetbay)
16. Supervalu (Acme, Albertson's, Bristol Farms, Jewel-Osco, Shaw's)
17. Trader Joe's
18. Meijer
19. H. E. Butt (H.E.B., Central Market)
20. Price Chopper

Wal-Mart, Safeway and Wegmans (5,6 and 7) came close to passing the Greenpeace evaluation (bairly failing). Kroger, Aldi and Costco (8, 9 and 10) have a ways to go, according to Greenpeace, but could move up dramatically with improved sustainability practices. The other ten have lots of work to do in terms of harvested seafood sustainability, particularly the bottom five (16-20) chains.

Wal-Mart's nearly making the sustainable seafood A-list is interesting, and appears to us to be a reflection of the mega-retailer's increased emphasis on sustainability and "green" retailing.

"We are proud to be recognized for our efforts as we go to great lengths to ensure these products meet our high standards for quality, safety, sustainability and culinary excellence," Margaret Wittenberg, Whole Foods Market's global vice president of quality standards and public affairs said today after being told Greenpeace chose the natural grocery chain as its top retailer for seafood sustainability. "We have done more than any other retailer when it comes to sourcing and promoting environmentally responsible, quality seafood, and we will continue to evaluate all species of seafood we sell to ensure we are doing our part to care for our planet and its tenants."

Whittenberg also announced today Whole Foods Market is now embarking on a process for further enhancing its quality standards for wild-caught species similar to its quality standards project for aquaculture, and will include creating sourcing guidelines for wild-capture fisheries not already certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. This is a practice Greenpeace has been encouraging retailers to adopt, along with their sustainability programs for harvested seafood.

After hearing Whole Foods announcement, Greenpeace issued a statement today congratulating Whole Foods on adopting the stronger sustainability standards for wild-caught seafood.

"Whole Foods Market is making significant strides in improving its seafood sustainability, and Greenpeace expects Whole Foods' wild-caught Quality Standards will be as thorough as its Aquaculture Standards," Greenpeace said.

In June of this year, Greenpeace first ranked the top 20 chains. All 20, including Whole Foods Market, flunked that review.

The new review, which ranked Whole foods number one and included the other three chains, took into account what Greenpeace says are some "small but significant changes" in some of the retailer's sustainability policies. In other words it's sort of a redo, taking effort and improvement into account this time around.

Whole Foods, which operates 275 stores in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom and had 2008 sales of $8 billion, made the "most significant" improvements, landing it in first place, according to Greenpeace.

Speaking of improvements, it appears 16 of the top 20 chains have nowhere to go but up when it comes to seafood sustainability.

Whole Foods Market, Inc. also was named "America's Healthiest Grocery Store" this year by Health Magazine, which each year picks "the healthiest" in a variety of business categories like grocery stores, restaurants and more.

Whole Foods might be a "premium organic retailing segment" monopolist in about 29 U.S. markets, if one buys the FTC's argument, which as we written we don't. However, it appears it's a very sustainable and health-oriented retailer when it comes to the foods and other products it monopolizes those respective market places with. That certainly should count for something.

The full Greenpeace top 20 retailer seafood sustainability report along with additional details is available at:


Anonymous said...

Very interesting take by Greenpeace. I wish I could see their "green list" for comparison-tough website to negotiate. All the species listed on their "red list" are getting totally hammered, and most science concludes that they are getting overfished beyond sustainable limits.
The Albacore Tuna are an exception on most redlight-greenlight lists, their fecundity being the most positive factor, and they are green-lighted on most lists-especially if caught by troll or pole methods in the North Pacific. It is the only fish on Greenpeace's redlist that I sell, everything else is reprehensible and the mark of laziness and greed to be putting in your fishcase.
I hate to see Greenpeace using blanket proclamations, without giving us more detailed background.
Monterey Bay Aquariums Seafood Watch
tch.aspx cards are still the gold standard of these fish lists, they do their homework, but they make some unpalatable compromises also.

The Whole Foods selection at the top of there list is no suprise. Whole Paycheck straddles the fence just enough to pass the real scrutiny on these issues. While John Mackey crushed the Turtle Safe campaign in the 90's, he has got smart enough to know that if he throws the Seafood listing NGO's a bone or cash once in a while, that he comes out smelling like fresh seawater.
i.e.. the deal that Whole Paycheck made with MSC on Chilean Seabass.
MSC was not letting any Chilean Seabass(patagonian toothfish) fisheries pass muster for their seal, but under intense pressure by Whole Foods, and financial support for MSC by Whole Foods, when nobody was giving MSC money, MSC caved and created an "exclusive" certified Chilean Seabass fishery in the South Atlantic-South Georgia Island for Whole Paycheck.

MSC made a deal on the North Pacific/Bering Sea Pollock Factory trawler fishery also, so that they could get a nice penny or something commission a pound on sales of a trillion pounds of pollock to McDonalds, etc. And a ton of visibility, MSC was almost bankrupt before they made that deal. And now the pollock certification is coming around to bite MSC on the posterior as the massive fishery is failing and facing massive cutbacks in harvest. As well as the impacts of such a large industrial fishery are coming to light- the plight of Steller Sea lions and other fisheries.

Whole Foods makes their own rules as they go along, and their own "redlight/greenlight" lists now so they can sell redlighted fish and make the big margins. Farm salmon is one example, and now WF has their own relaxed "aquaculture standards"
Pure Greenwash-hogwash, but WF is poor now, and hurting bad in the marketplace, they have just had to take on a major investment partner to keep solvent. They had to give up seats on their Board of Directors to these hard core industrial grocers, so look for lots more obfuscation concerning the blurring of standards coming down the pike from WF.

So is Greenpeace trying to get some hush-money out of Whole Foods? We will have to see.

A Local Fishmonger

Anonymous said...


Have you seen this?
Barry Estabrook in Gourmet-on WF's battle with the FTC, and New Seasons.
With comments from Paige Brady of Whole Foods.

Anonymous Seattle

Anonymous said...

Whole Foods received the top score for a national chain, and are setting an ever improving standard for that segment of the marketplace.

However, there are 15 regional or independent companies that received much higher marks for their seafood sustainability. My Organic Market in Maryland received a score of 84, so they are technically the number one retailer in the United States in seafood sustainability, according to the Greenpeace methodology.

Check out the Green Grocers section of the report for the scores and profiles of companies that have raised the bar for their national chain competitors.

Anonymous said...

I agree with "A Local Fishmonger." Something smells a bit over Greenpeace's Whole Foods compromise. Am tempted to ask: "Fish or Fowl." Remember, the fish rots from the head on down.

Natural~Specialty Foods Memo said...

Thanks for adding to the discussion with the post from Gourmet anon-Seattle. Feel free to post it on one of the direct WF-New Seasons stories as well if you like.

Appreciate your comments and participation.


Natural~Specialty Foods Memo said...

Thanks for pointing out the 15 regional/independent retailers anon. Our focus was on the top 20 chains...But this is key information.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what is meant by the "Greenpeace-Whole Foods compromise". I don't know of any compromise being made, especially on Greenpeace's part. I highly doubt they would take money from Whole Foods.

I think its important to highlight the efforts of those in the Green Grocers section, as they are the ones raising the bar for the industry. If it is shown what is possible, then the Top 20 companies will have feasible examples to follow.

Also, I don't believe MSC receives $ from the pollock certification, because McDonald's doesn't use the MSC logo (thereby bypassing licensing fees).

Agree that the Greenpeace list is a bit broad, there are exceptions to fisheries ie those that use more selective fishing methods. Hopefully, they took that into accountant when the companies filled out the questionnaire.

Finally, Local Fishmonger, you seem well informed on these issues. I would be very interested in how you incorporate sustainability in your purchasing decisions, what your seafood case looks like etc. Willing to share more info?

Anonymous said...

The best way to compare the Top 20 with the "Green Seafood Grocers" is to use the search by state function. California provides the best example.

Anonymous said...

Whole Foods seafood may be sustainable according to Greenpeace but it's not sustainable to most people's wallets right now. I make far more than the average American but am not about to pay $12 a pound for the salmon I saw in Whole Foods today. I want a meal not an investment. Sorry but I went to an Asian market and got fresh whole fish for $3.99 pound.