Fruit and Veg City has been taking a social media lambasting from irate consumers that caught the fresh food retailer selling endangered fish species in a few of their stores. Debate was intense, with both customers and Fruit and Veg City getting in on the action. The retailer has since issued an official statement detailing how they plan to handle the situation of endangered fish “slipping through their nets”.
Adrian B, a member of the Sealine South African Angling and Boating Community, posted the following image and message back in April:
Attached (hopefully, if I can get it to attach) is a picture of a red steenbras for sale and Fruit and Veg City (Food lovers market) in Tokai, Cape Town taken on Saturday (31.03.2012)
Their website claims: “However, as a responsible retailer we make sure that we do our bit to protect the environment. That’s why we will never stock any fish that is on the endangered species list” (see seafood section on the home page)
Please e-mail management on firstname.lastname@example.org , email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org , go to their website (Google Fruit and veg city or food lover market), like their face book page and comment , tell them what you think about franchised retailers who claim concern for sustainable fishing and sell Red Steenbras.
Nothing hurts move than public outrage spread via social media.
The fish in question:
At the time, Fruit and Veg City denied that the fish depicted was in fact a Red Steenbras, and said that their supplier, Aquatic Foods, told them it was a Santer. A Santer does in fact look similar to a Red Steenbras, but anglers were not convinced.
That prompted an about turn from the retailer, and its supplier, who both issued further responses:
We are really sorry,
This morning one of our shoppers made us aware of the fact that an endangered fish had been placed on display in our Tokai seafood department (at the time, we immediately removed it and sent it back to the supplier). We checked the authenticity of the claim by contacting our supplier, Aquatic Foods who confirmed that it was a Santer and not a Red Steenbras. However, facebook users flagged that it was definitely the endangered species and, on further investigation, Aquatic Foods has apologised for erroneously confirming that it was a Santer based purely on the invoice details (Aquatic Foods apology to be posted below).
We have made contact with SASSI to confirm that the fish is indeed a Red Steenbras and for this error we wholeheartedly apologise. We will be engaging with SASSI through conversation and training to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future. Each store that sells fish has made the commitment that they will be trained directly by SASSI to ensure that this never happens again. We sincerely apologise to you, the consumer, and thank you for taking the time to alert us to this oversight.
The FVC Team
Apology from Aquatic Foods:
Thank you for the correspondence in regard to the complaint that was received. It would appear from the post and picture posted by Mr.Greg Hogarth that the product is a Red Steenbras (petrus rupestris) and not a Santer (cheimerius nufar).
Whilst the Red Steenbras is a species identified as being under threat, and as such deserves the full protection by supplier and consumer alike, it is important to draw the distinction that it is not a ‘no sale’ species and unfortunately is still being caught and sold by commercial line fishermen.
The above is mentioned only to serve to bring clarity, and in no way is to be interpreted that we at Aquatic Foods subscribe to the policy of dealing indiscriminately in species that are under threat. In fact the complete opposite is our desire. We have actively been part of the educational process by way of our past association with SASSI and our self- driven desire to be part of a culture that wishes to be sustainable in our selection and supply of seafood.
The fish in question was purchased in by ourselves as part of a parcel of select line fish, Cob and Santers from a supplier of long standing (Viking inshore Fishing) with whom we have done business for many years. We endeavour to make sure that that there are no “no sale” or red list (SASSI) species among the fish that we then distribute to our customers.
It would appear that in this instance, we did not remove the Red Steenbras from the parcel of fish, and as a result this product became available for sale whereby you received it with your order of Santers.
Whilst we understand the impact this has had on your business, and are appreciative to the sentiments of your customers we would like to categorically state that this is not ‘due course of business’ for us at Aquatic Foods.
As a result of this we will further improve our scrutiny and diligence in product received and despatched and offer an apology for the distress caused to yourselves and to your customers.
We would also like to reaffirm our stance in regard to our desire to trade responsibly and sustainably.
Assistant General Manager
The issue doesn’t seem to have been resolved though, as My News24 writer, Adrian Barichievy pointed out on Monday this week:
There is a lot of talk about green issues, sustainable fishing in the media what isn’t mentioned is how easily business “greenwash” their business with unsubstantiated advertising claims.
Fruit and Veg City are an excellent example. Their website claims “However, as a responsible retailer we make sure that we do our bit to protect the environment. That’s why we will never stock any fish that is on the endangered species list”
Yet if you dig a little deeper:
· April: Red Steenbras for sale – followed by an public apology
· June: Consumer pressure about unregulated fish from Mozambique results in their Fourways store pulling their fish from Mozambique – the group however doesn’t follow suit despite SASSI highlighting the issues around fish from Moz
· June: East Coast Rock Lobster in their Bryanston store– illegal for sale in KZN and only available from rural Xhosa subsistence fisherman in the Transkei – consumer query as to the origins of the Crayfish – despite promises of getting back to the consumer no response (publically acknowledging you selling illegally acquired Lobster may be damaging?)
· June: Red Steenbras in their PE store
· June: Red Stumpnose in their Tokai store again.
This was when all hell broke loose on the Fruit and Veg City Facebook page.
The Fruit and Veg City social media team responded:
To all our concerned customers,
We’re on the case and will get back to you shortly…
At Food Lover’s Market we support sustainable fishing and are in the process of implementing a sustainable procurement policy. It’s taking a little while as it involves liaising with SASSI, our various seafood suppliers and store managers. You have alerted us to the fact that a few SASSI listed fish may have slipped through the nets – we’re taking this very seriously. Food Lover’s Market values your feedback and will respond to each individual enquiry shortly.
The FVC Team
This was met with further anger, as it appeared the team hadn’t been taking the issue as seriously as they should have.
This was one response on the Fruit and Veg City Facebook page that seemed to sum up the general mood:
Fuck you,you cowards!own up and be accountable!people like you give us commercial fishermen a bad name.i hope you get media coverage,lets see if you can make fools of yourselves nationwide
Late yesterday afternoon, Fruit and Veg City issued 2oceansVibe the following statement:
In the past few weeks we have had some incidents of red or orange listed fish coming into some of our stores and erroneously being made available in our seafood department. We were first alerted to an isolated incident in April, which we immediately rectified and addressed with the supplier. However, in the past few weeks we have had a few more issues of endangered fish coming into our stores. We have followed up with our suppliers who have explained that occasionally an endangered species might be caught in the nets and sent through to the stores. Some members of the public have alerted us to these instances and we have dealt with it swiftly by removing the fish, speaking to the store owners and addressing the issue with the supplier.
As of today, any supplier of red listed fish will immediately be removed from the Fruit & Veg supplier list. Furthermore, to show our commitment to sustainability, we announced today that we will fine each store manager or franchisee R5 000.00 for each substantiated case of a red listed fish found on display in their store. All proceeds from these fines will be donated to SASSI.
We view this in a very serious light as Fruit & Veg City is actively working on a Sustainable Seafood Procurement Policy, which involves a process of partnering with SASSI, educating our store mangers and staff about sustainable seafood and ensuring that our seafood suppliers follow responsible fishing practices.
As a group we have grown over the years from a small-scale fresh produce retailer, selling mostly just fruit & vegetables, to a multi-faceted retailer selling an ever increasing range of products, including seafood. With this growth in our seafood departments, we have recognised the importance of having a sustainable seafood policy in place and ensuring enforcement of such a policy.
Self-regulation is important to us and ensures that we are a responsible retailer and that we can be held accountable by our consumers – in no way has our public commitment to a sustainable seafood procurement policy been an attempt to mislead the consumer as we are in the process of formulating an internal seafood procurement policy, which once approved and finalised will be distributed and enforced across all our stores.
The Seafood department is a relatively new one to our business and as most big retailers can attest, the process of ensuring that you are 100% compliant is a process of liaising very closely with SASSI to participate in their SASSI Retailer / Supplier Particpation Scheme, ensuring that our store owners source seafood from credible and responsible suppliers and educating our staff about sustainability.
This is a work in progress and even SASSI recognises that the proper implementation and enforcement of a sustainable seafood policy is not something that happens overnight. For this reason SASSI, gives their participants a two-year period within to properly develop, implement and enforce their sustainable seafood policy.
Pending the finalisation of our talks with SASSI and the final approval of our seafood procurement policy, we are actively acting on all instances where it is brought to our attention that our stores are selling red listed species.
We do apologise to our consumers and trust that the above actions demonstrate our commitment to being a responsible retailer. Rather than pushing this matter aside, we have prioritised the implementation of a sustainable seafood policy across our group and are taking active steps to achieve this.
But, Fruit and Veg City has not been the only retailer that has been caught out by the ever-observant public. Checkers Canal Walk recently tried to pass off this Red Stumpnose, another SASSI red listed species, as a Red Roman:
Hopefully the retailers will implement more stringent purchasing measures going forward.
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