Sustainable Fish For All… Not Just on Fridays

Sodexo now offers sustainably sourced fish to more than 1 million of its customers in the UK. Foodservice Footprint finds out how the company managed to pull off this first.


In a move that provides a benchmark for the industry, Sodexo, the international services company and world leader in Quality of Daily Life Solutions, has ensured that more than one million people in the UK will be offered Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified sustainably sourced fish. This is a world first, says the MSC.


Gaining MSC Chain of Custody certification is a landmark achievement, an ambitious objective that Sodexo set under the ‘Better Tomorrow Plan’, its global sustainability strategy to 2020.


To secure Chain of Custody certification, Sodexo had to demonstrate full traceability of its seafood supply chain, effective storage and record-keeping systems that ensure only seafood from a certified fishery carries the MSC ecolabel. Key aspects of the kitchen audit are the fish handling procedures designed to keep certified and non-certified fish apart at all times. Evidence of training for all kitchen staff is required alongside records of certified fish bought and sold.


This major move forward by Sodexo means it can now serve certified sustainably sourced fish in its 929 restaurants in workplaces, schools, hospitals and MoD sites.


Michelle Hanson, Commercial Director, Sodexo UK & Ireland, says: “Like most people, we were alarmed to hear about declining fish stocks. Through MSC certification, we believe we are making a real difference in helping to protect the world’s fish stocks and marine environments.


“Traceability of our fish from boat to plate has always been very important to us. With the MSC Chain of Custody certification, we have complete assurance that every step of the supply chain has been certified to ensure that we know that every piece of MSC fish that we serve comes from a well managed fishery.”

Sodexo UK & Ireland purchases around 800 tons of seafood every year of which almost 150 tons are MSC certified (about £4 million in value per year) including mackerel, herring, sardines, hake, salmon, hoki, pollock and prawns.


The pioneering scheme means MSC certified fish is now available at sites including Manchester Royal Infirmary, the Co-operative and Eton College, primary schools in Wiltshire, Catterick Garrison, Blenheim Palace and even the Chelsea Flower Show.


Tamsin Gane, Sustainable Procurement Manager for Sodexo, takes up the story: “I took up my position at Sodexo early in 2008 and one of the first tasks to tackle was our fish procurement strategy. We needed to communicate to our customers the sustainability of our fish; the only way to do that successfully was to have it certified by an external body. By May 2008 we started working with MSC to determine how we should go about this. Just six months later, we were ready to start the process of certificating sites.


“We had to ensure awareness at all levels so that everyone was aware of what we wanted to do and the reasons behind it. I trained 929 managers via a series of webinars,” says Gane.


In a first stage, March 2009 saw 250 Sodexo Education school sites through the certification process. “Sodexo menus are controlled centrally so we were quickly able to control and communicate what we were doing to both pupils and parents,” says Gane. After those sites were up and running, the focus turned to trialling the certification process in 30 corporate service sites, including the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament.


“As an additional check, we launched an online questionnaire for all site managers to complete in order to demonstrate their knowledge of the MSC requirements. Finally, in December 2010, we were MSC certified across all our UK restaurants and cafés,” she says. “From the first school to be certified to the last site it took just 18 months.”


For other companies that may be inspired to follow Sodexo’s example, Gane says: “It wasn’t an easy journey and it took a lot of time and energy. There is a lot of work involved but it is achievable and well worth the effort. I am convinced that by going down this route, Sodexo is making a significant contribution to sustainability in the industry.”


Hannah Arcaro, UK Foodservice Manager at the MSC, said: “What Sodexo has achieved is nothing less than amazing. Serving MSC certified sustainable fish at nearly a thousand sites will introduce a huge cross-section of British consumer to the issues around overfishing and how they can be part of the solution. By helping to reward the certified fisheries around the world, who have proven that they are fishing sustainably, Sodexo and its customers will be helping to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis.”


The story doesn’t stop there as Sodexo is currently talking to MSC about a global agreement; Sodexo outlets in The Netherlands have already been certified and France has just been audited and obtained MSC Chain of Custody.


Sodexo has signed up to Sustainable Fish City, an initiative working to make London the first ever Sustainable Fish City, to show what can be done if people and organisations make a concerted effort to change their buying habits.