The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Sustainability Series: Bumble Bee

Sustainability Series: Bumble Bee


March 26, 2014

Based in San Diego, Bumble Bee Foods, LLC, is North America’s largest branded shelf-stable seafood company. Their full line of canned and pouched tuna, salmon, sardine, and specialty protein products are marketed in the U.S. under leading brands including Bumble Bee®, Brunswick®, Snow’s® and Beach Cliff®, and in Canada under the Clover Leaf® brand. The company actively promotes the responsible stewardship of global fisheries resources and is a founding member of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF). We talked to Chris Lischewski, Bumble Bee President and CEO, about protecting global fisheries for generations to come.

How does your business define sustainability?

We define sustainability at its simplest as operating in a manner that balances environmental, social and economic needs of the present with those of the future, for humans and our planet. As a seafood company that relies upon our oceans for a supply of natural resources critical to our business, it is imperative and, in fact, inherent to our mission that we adhere to practices and policies that ensure long-term sustainability of our fisheries resources that enable us to provide an affordable, nutritious lean source of protein for people today and help feed a future population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050.   

How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business?

Bumble Bee Foods’ Shaping a Healthier Future corporate social responsibility platform and its four pillars directly support our corporate vision of “improving our consumers’ quality of life by providing sustainable, nutritious, convenient and affordable seafood products.”   

While no single aspect is more important or more central to Bumble Bee Foods’ sustainability program than ensuring the responsible harvesting and management of seafood we provide to our consumers, the four pillars of our Shaping a Healthier Future platform are broader in focus and live across our business. These four pillars are: Sustaining Fisheries; Nourishing Lifestyles; Conserving Resources; Thriving Workplace. Here are some examples of activities in each of these areas:

Sustaining Fisheries:  

Bumble Bee seeks to be a leader in the industry with an approach to fisheries that is firmly grounded in science. We maintain a solid understanding of our source fisheries ensuring we know where the fish comes from, the status of the target stock, fishing effort levels, eco-system impacts and the management of a particular fishery. We strive to source from fisheries that have solid management in place and that utilize science to manage the fishery. Here are a few examples of Bumble Bee’s leadership in sustainability:

Nourishing Lifestyles:

The healthy profile of our product portfolio affords Bumble Bee a strong basis from which to support and encourage healthy consumer lifestyles. The health benefits of seafood are widely known and, at a time when the USDA is urging Americans to include more seafood in their diets, we are proud to offer millions of Americans healthy, nutritious sources of lean protein at an affordable price, while also encouraging them to take simple steps to live a healthier lifestyle. Here are a few ways Bumble Bee supports nourishing lifestyles:

Conserving Resources:

In addition to our work in fisheries, Bumble Bee is committed to reducing the environmental footprint of our operations and products. In 2009, Bumble Bee established a baseline of key environmental metrics, including greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, water use and solid waste generated. From this baseline, we have set 2015 reduction goals (per production basis) against which we are on track to achieve through efficiency and conservation measures at our facilities:

Here are a few other ways we are conserving resources:

Thriving Workplace:

Bumble Bee CSR practices extend to our workplace, supply chain and communities in which we operate. We believe healthier employees make for happier employees and support an effective organization and business. Here are some of the ways Bumble Bee promotes a thriving workplace: 

What are your short term and long term goals?

Building upon the above comments, we aim to improve the fisheries from which we source through participation in organizations such as ISSF and through fishery improvement projects. A long-term goal of ISSF, which we share, is to improve the global tuna fisheries to where they are capable of meeting the criteria of the MSC standard. The MSC is an international non-profit organization that operates a certification and ecolabel program based on a scientifically robust standard for assessing wild-capture fisheries to ensure they are ecologically sustainable and well-managed. The MSC certification is a gold standard for sustainable wild fisheries. As noted above, we have developed goals to reduce our utility usage and waste at our processing and production facilities. We report our progress against these goals on our company website on a quarterly basis.

Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact?

We see sustainability work related to fisheries as both the most relevant area for Bumble Bee and the area in which we can drive the most positive change through individual efforts and collaboration. 

How do you measure your progress?

Through ISSF, we monitor progress and status of tuna fisheries globally as well as the research and fishery improvement work the organization supports. We also commission assessments of other smaller fisheries to track progress. All of our assessments are completed by third party experts/scientists who use the most current scientific information available. We measure progress against environmental goals on a monthly basis and report the results on our website quarterly.  

How do retailers factor into your efforts?

Retailers have become one of the key stakeholders and drivers on the sustainability landscape. In general, many have come to expect their suppliers to have active sustainability programs and initiatives in place and, in some cases, report on their efforts and initiatives. A number of retailers also have requirements on social audits of facilities supplying their stores.

Specific to the area of seafood, the majority of major retailers have some form of “seafood sustainability” policy. These policies are typically developed in counsel with environmental non-governmental organizations (NGO) or consultancies and often have sourcing requirements that suppliers need to meet. Some of these policies have the potential to increase the cost of their seafood products, which presents the challenge of finding the balance between a “more sustainable” option and price. Retailers and NGO’s are stronger drivers of “sustainable seafood” than the vast majority of consumers.   

Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry?

The world’s population is growing and, in many places, developing. Estimates state that, by 2050, we will need to feed 9 billion people with the same planet and resources we have today. Food companies really do not have a choice but to operate sustainably and develop sustainable solutions if we want to continue to be able to feed the world. As mentioned above, as a seafood company, we rely on the ocean and fish stocks as the source of what comprises our products. If we don’t operate and manage stocks for the long term, the environment will suffer, and we risk losing a plentiful source of lean, protein and we go out of business.  

Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?

Most consumers have a baseline expectation that a company operates in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. It is important to distinguish between what is “important to the consumer” and whether that importance translates into purchase decisions. Almost all consumers will claim sustainability is important, but far fewer will pay a premium or make sacrifices to get a “more sustainable” product or buy from a “more sustainable” company. The level of commitment of a consumer and willingness to pay for sustainability varies by consumer segment and even product category.  

In the seafood category, particularly the shelf stable category, the reality is that the vast majority of mainstream consumers purchase on price and sustainability, while a claimed concern falls behind price, quality and safety at the point of purchase. There is a small but growing segment of consumers who are willing to pay for more sustainable seafood options like our Wild Selections® line. It is often challenging to relay in consumer-friendly messaging the personal benefit of a “more sustainable” seafood option – where “sustainable” often involves where and how the fish was caught, who is catching it, and getting them to pay more for a product when there is a conventional product next to it on shelves that costs less and has the same nutritional value.