Stavis CEO: Seafood industry must be more ‘nimble’

Stavis CEO: Seafood industry must be more ‘nimble’

December 9, 2015, 4:31 pm
Ola Wietecha
Consumer demand is quickly changing and becoming more specific, and according to US-based wholesaler Stavis Seafoods's CEO, the industry's traditionally slow pace of change will no longer suffice, something which is pushing the company to be more "nimble" going forward.

“The consumer is getting more discerning and rightfully so and we need to be able to provide for those needs with more precision than the industry has done before. We need to be a company which is more nimble and flexible to be able to address those demands as they arrive,” said Richard Stavis, CEO of the Boston, Massachusetts-based, family-owned company.

Going into 2016, Stavis said the company will focus future efforts on its ability to be more responsive to market changes as consumer demand are no longer just about products, but are becoming more about their sourcing.

“For a number of years we’ve seen how the seafood industry is growing and changing, how the needs of our customers are changing...and what we’ve been working on is how to best serve those customers’ needs and how to set ourselves up for the future,” Stavis said.

Stavis said the company is now "doing more production than we ever have" after recently expanding in plants in Miami and Boston, and recently hired Brett Heidtke as its new director of operations.

"He is joining Stavis Seafoods at a time when we have made important growth investments and have a mew energy and focus....he is an important part of our goal of building our business for the future," Stavis said in a release.

Shift in public dialogue

Consumers are slowly becoming more and more concerned with sustainability, Stavis said, something that has forced the industry to shift in the past few years.

"Whet I'm seeing is a shift in the dialogue, people who weren't talking about it at all now are," Stavis said. "it's been slow to pick up in the general public, we haven't really seen consumer dollars going toward sustainable seafood preferentially in any concerted way until recently."

Stavis said that the change in dialogue, while clear, has been slow, driven largely but chefs at upscale restaurants, younger customers, people with high levels of education and with more disposable income.

"But, ultimately, we're seeing it changing on all fronts," Stavis said.

According to Stavis, there is no doubt public demand for sustainably-sourced seafood will rapidly pick up speed int he near future, and when it does he wants the company to be ready to adjust quickly.

“We know this is something that’s it’s going to get traction and consumers are going to buy things based on whether that fish is responsibly harvested,” he said.

Stavis doesn't plan to become a "poster child" for sustainability, and will not become a "sustainability-only company", but it is enforcing minimum sustainability standards.

"As long as change is happening and it's not going below what we consider to be a the minimal level for responsibility, we'll continue to work with them, our goal has always been to give our customers choice," he said.

The company has eliminated a couple of product lines already due to failures to meet minimum sustainability standards, including a Chinese surimi producer which was found to be using product from illegal, unregulated and unreported vessels.

The company also plans to focus on sourcing more of its products from North America, something that is also growing in importance among some consumers.

“We’re certainly ahead of the curve when it comes to national trends, and I can tell you that our domestic sourcing is growing,” he said.

Responsibility over sustainability

Despite growing talk of sustainable seafood, Stavis said his company has chosen to take a broader approach, as he finds the concept of sustainability limiting.

"Last year we kind of hit upon a bit of a lightbulb moment...sustainability as a term is really kind of limited. It’s an endpoint...and we really want to do the right thing everyday not everything that we do is going to be based on sustainability," he said.

For example, last year the company partnered with the Seafood Nutrition Partnership, a public health campaign aiming to increase seafood consumption among Americans. While not directly related to sustainability, Stavis said it reflects the company's focus on overall responsibility.

"By using the model of responsibility versus sustainability, it allows us to bring social responsibility into that realm as well, as well as nutrition for health,” Stavis said.
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