|September 23, 2015|
Ikea shows off its new ethical stance ... on seafood
|First it was veggie meatballs, then it was energy-saving lights bulbs and now it is seafood. Ikea has been keen this year to prove its willingness to nudge its customers' buying habits in a different direction.|
From this week all 23 varieties of seafood, including Atlantic cod, salmon and shrimp, on sale in the Swedish furniture chain's restaurants, bistros and food markets across 47 countries will be from certified sources.
In some markets, such as Turkey, Thailand and the Middle East, this will be the first time certified seafood has been put on sale.
Nearly two-thirds of the world's fisheries are "fully exploited", and most of the rest are over-exploited. The latest WWF report on the state of the oceans, published last week, found marine populations had declined by 49% between 1970 and 2012.
Although aquaculture can reduce pressure on fisheries, there has been criticism about its use of wild fish as a feed source, impact on local fish stocks and levels of disease and pollution.
To counter concerns, Ikea is now only sourcing seafood certified by either the Marine Stewardship Council (which limits catches of depleted fisheries) or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (which is introducing minimum standards for fish farms).
Although better known for its cheap furniture, Ikea's food business was worth more than £1bn in 2015, contributing 5% of its total revenues. Sales of seafood generated around £160m, with its range of salmon dishes the second-biggest seller behind meatballs.
"We realise it might not resonate with everyone," said Jacqui Macalister, health and sustainability manager at Ikea, "but consumers have become so much more in tune with food and how it is produced. They are aware of overfishing and are starting to make choices and decisions that they know are responsible."
The retailer said the price of its range of seafood options will remain unchanged, despite the additional costs of certification. This follows a similar decision after the introduction of its veggie balls in April this year. Although costs of production are currently higher for the veggie balls in comparison to meatballs, the vegetarian ones have been deliberately priced lower to encourage consumers to pick them.
Farmed salmon debate
Ikea's support for certified fish has been heralded as a "gamechanger" for the farmed salmon sector in particular. The ASC's new standards only started in 2012 and are yet to gain widespread support from retailers or wholesalers.
The standards for farmed salmon -- agreed by a group of NGOs, marine scientists and industry groups -- cover issues including protection of wild stocks from escapees, local water quality, a ban on the prophylactic use of antibiotics (ie to prevent rather than treat infections), treatment of employees and engagement with the local community.
"The Ikea commitment to the ASC programme is a gamechanger; introducing the ASC to consumers in many new markets. Customers can now be assured that the salmon in IKEA's restaurants and Swedish Food Markets comes from farms that respect the environment, the rights of workers and the interests of the local community," says Chris Ninnes, CEO, Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC).
WWF, who helped set up the ASC standards, say independent certification is "the only way to ensure that the environment is protected in a way that is transparent and verifiable and that seafood will continue to be available for us all into the future".
However, critics say certification schemes on their own will not safeguard against environmental damage. As well as highlighting the importance of third-party checking up on standards, respected observers such as Seafood Watch say the ASC standard still falls short on the amount off wild fish it allows to be used in feed. The US-based group does not yet include ASC certified salmon on its recommended list.
"If we are truly interested in sustainable seafood we need to diversify diets," said Corey Peet, aquaculture manager at Seafood Watch. "Certification is one way and very much needed, but there are alternative ways for retailers, [such as] building relationships between suppliers and producers and shrinking supply chains."
Ikea says certification is just the first step. Its Norwegian salmon supplier, the Leroy Seafood Group, from which it has been buying since 1984, is working on a project growing mussels and seaweed alongside its salmon farms to cut out waste. The mussels feed on salmon waste and eat sea lice, a parasite that infects salmon. While the seaweed, that also feeds on salmon waste, could potentially provide an alternative source of Omega-3 for salmon instead of wild fish.
A trial project - known as Ocean Forest - is currently underway at one of Leroy's farm sites in Norway.
"It's thinking about salmon as a polyculture and not a monoculture," explained Macalister. "If you can have a self-sustaining farm then you are creating protein for human consumption in a very efficient way.
"The goal is to make sustainable food choices affordable. We know we can have a positive influence on industry and stimulate demand for these products," she added.