Walmart launches ‘The Alaskan’

ANCHORAGE — Walmart announced on Jan. 28 the launch of an in-store brand, The Alaskan, for sale in every Alaska Walmart Supercenter and 20 Washington stores, as well as 14 additional products of wild Alaska cod, salmon, rockfish, sole and crab to its general stock.

The new items are on shelves just a couple years after Alaska seafood in Walmart stores was in jeopardy following a company plan to only stock seafood products carrying the Marine Stewardship Council certification for sustainability.

Since then, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI, has developed an alternative sustainability certification called Responsible Fisheries Management, or RFM, and Walmart reversed course on barring seafood not carrying the MSC label.

In 2013, ASMI industry decided to drop its client status for using the London-based Marine Stewardship Council’s certification for Alaska salmon, citing cost and existing Alaska dedication to sustainability. During the certification renewal process for Alaska salmon, MSC raised issues about state management of hatchery salmon that could have required changes in order to receive certification.

The MSC certification also requires a logo-licensing fee that raised complaints from industry, while the RFM program has no fees attached.

The RFM policy is based on the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s guidelines for responsible fisheries. More than 100 companies, including Trident, Icicle Seafoods, Inc., and Canadian Fishing Company, use the RFM stamp.

According to its company policy, Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club require all fresh, frozen, farmed and wild seafood suppliers to source from fisheries who carry MSC certification, Best Aquaculture Practices certification, are actively working towards such certifications, or managing their fishery under principles of The Sustainability Consortium.

The Sustainability Consortium is an association of industries jointly administered by Arizona State University and the University of Arkansas to “work collaboratively to build a scientific foundation that drives innovation to improve consumer product sustainability (and) administer the Sustainability Consortium jointly.”

The consortium’s bylaws for wild-caught fish focus on low impact on marine ecosystems, environmentally conscious food waste and packaging practices, and fair treatment for workers and communities involved in or peripheral to the fishery.

Half of the U.S. seafood harvest comes from Alaska waters, and the Alaskan brand helps Walmart satisfy rising consumer demand for both local and sustainable products, and gives Alaska fishermen a foothold in the world’s largest retailer.

The new seafood items are not only caught in Alaska, but processed in Alaska or the Pacific Northwest and proudly carry a “Made in the U.S.A.” stamp emblazoned on the packaging. This is significant as a large portion of Alaska seafood travels to Chinese processors before it ends up on American dinner plates.

China is Alaska’s largest primary seafood export market, with one-third of Alaska exports destined for China. Importers either keep the product for domestic consumption, market it to European or east Asian markets, or sell it back to the United States.

The Alaskan brand is supplied through Trident Seafoods Corp. from its 12 Alaska coastal processing facilities scattered throughout Southeast, Southcentral, and the Aleutian Islands, as well as a handful of Trident’s Pacific Northwest processors.

This plays into a 2013 Walmart initiative to stimulate American jobs by buying $250 billion of U.S.-produced products over the next 10 years. Walmart spokesmen say they hope the brand will catch on and expand to other markets outside Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, if consumers display enough demand.

 “Our customers shop with an eye for quality and value. Like us, they’re also passionate about supporting local products. Some of the best catches in the world are found right here in Alaska and we’re proud to add these items to our seafood assortment,” said Scott Patton, a market manager for Walmart.

Patton, who works in Wasilla, says the product has sold well since its introduction, particularly cod.

Alaskans recognize the importance of fish source, he said, considering the connection many of them have to fishing.

“I always want to buy Alaska fish, but you can never be sure it’s really from Alaska,” said Terry Sanders, an Anchorage resident and daughter of a Nome gold miner while shopping at the Midtown Anchorage Walmart.

“It’s better. It tastes better, it’s better for you, and I get that it’s better for Alaska fishers and the economy.”

DJ Summers is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce.