Activist Shoppers Disrupt The Supply Chain – It’s Okay With Walmart

An estimated 75% of the world’s fisheries are at or beyond sustainable limits. Yet, the consumer market for seafood is growing rapidly. This is a business problem, an environmental problem and a health problem. In other words, it’s something for big companies to stay away from. Unless you’re Walmart and not afraid.

When you’re Walmart, you have unrivaled buying power on your side. Thus, you can set the price, but more than that, you can dictate how the products sold at Walmart are sourced and made.


Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club require all fresh and frozen, farmed and wild seafood suppliers to become third-party certified as sustainable using Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) or equivalent standards. By June 2012, all uncertified fisheries and aquaculture suppliers must be actively working toward certification.

Yes, the Arkansas-based retail behemoth that left-leaning elites love to bash is busy charting a new reality for how the oceans are fished. Should they spread this conscious sourcing to garments and other product categories sold in their stores? Absolutely. But let’s stick with this fish tale for a moment.

According to Sustainable Brands and Reuters, roughly 40 salmon processors in Alaska decided in 2012 to drop the internationally accepted blue ecolabel awarded by the London-based Marine Stewardship Council, saying it was expensive and eroded their brand. They said their own control systems were enough and they would consider the Ireland-based Global Trust Certification, as a replacement.

Wal-Mart responded with a routine letter to its salmon suppliers in June warning them it requires its salmon to be MSC-certified or working toward that distinction.

The Alaskan seafood industry is valued at $6.4 billion annually and is state’s largest private-sector employer, with more than 63,000 workers. Hence the “plead my case” visit by Alaskan officials to Bentonville last week.

“We are optimistic that Walmart will recognize Alaska fisheries as sustainably managed,” said Susan Bell, Commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Commerce. Meanwhile, I am optimistic that Walmart and sustainable practices will prevail. What the market wants, the market gets. And the market wants healthy seafood.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.