In light of the recent publishing of Kroger’s 2023 Environmental & Social Governance Report, we interviewed Lisa Zwack, Head of Sustainability at Kroger, to reflect on the US retailer’s sustainability journey, their achievements, and plans for the future. Additionally, we learned about Kroger’s Seafood Sustainability Policy and the goals they have already accomplished, as well as the work still to be done. Furthermore, we examine Kroger’s commitment to a nature-positive approach in the seafood sector and how they are addressing the importance of biodiversity preservation as well as seafood traceability in their operations.

Q: Kroger was one of the first major US retailers to publicly commit to a seafood sustainability policy and was instrumental in leading and inspiring others within the industry to act. As a WWF partner since 2009, what are you most proud of in your sustainability journey? And how have you seen the industry evolve in the last decade?

A: We often refer to our work with WWF to define and advance seafood sustainability in our business as an example of success in our journey. Sustainability requires collaboration—we can’t make big changes alone. By bringing scientific experts to the table to advise us on our journey, we can set credible goals that reflect best practices. We also lean on WWF’s deep knowledge of the seafood industry to track progress on our goals and identify opportunities to achieve even higher sustainability performance in our assortment. When scanning the industry landscape, I see that many companies are using similar models for advancing seafood sustainability, and it is heartening to know that, collectively, we are having a positive impact.

Q: What is the primary benefit you have seen through your sustainability work (consumers, stakeholders, investors, other)?

A: Advancing the sustainability of our company’s operations and supply chain offers multiple benefits. Long-term, the primary benefit is that we are helping conserve natural resources for future generations. Near-term, our goals and initiatives that focus on reducing climate impacts, creating more circularity and protecting biodiversity reflect our focus on advancing positive impacts for people and our planet.

Q: In 2021, you restated your commitment to increasing seafood sustainability by launching a new, more comprehensive Seafood Sustainability Policy. What goals have you met thus far and where is there more work to be done?

A: As you’ll see in Kroger’s 2023 Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) Report, we met our current goal to source 95% of wild-caught seafood in our seafood case in alignment with our seafood sustainability requirements in 2022. We’re also very close to meeting our goal to source 100% of farm-raised seafood according to these requirements, having reached 99% at the end of 2022. Our Brands is also making notable progress on the goal to source 20% of private-label shelf-stable tuna from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified sources. Overall, we continue to work with our suppliers, fisheries, farms, and WWF to advance seafood sustainability across our store departments.

Q: The seafood sector is seeing a push toward a nature-positive approach. This means companies not only work to reduce their environmental and social footprint of wild-caught and farmed seafood, but also begin to reverse negative trends in loss of marine life, so that ocean ecosystems are regenerative, resilient, and a support system for humanity. Do you see this nature-positive approach as a priority for your business?

A: Yes, this approach is emerging across different industries and through engagement with our stakeholders. Kroger’s Thriving Together strategy reflects the need to look holistically at the broad range of environmental and social topics to create more resilient systems that benefit people and our planet. Many of these topics are interconnected, and a systems approach considers possible tradeoffs and unintended consequences from a single-issue focus.

Q: More and more companies are recognizing the importance of biodiversity and are beginning to be more vocal in addressing the issue. How is Kroger working to address the importance of biodiversity preservation in its operations?

A: Kroger aims to continue offering a wide range of affordable foods for our customers far into the future. We have multiple goals focused on protecting biodiversity, as reflected in our seafood sustainability policy, no-deforestation commitment for Our Brands, and pollinator protection statement. Within our seafood workstream, our goals define our expectations for suppliers. Our seafood sustainability policy also prohibits endangered or critically endangered seafood species. We track goal progress and impacts annually to measure how the fisheries and farms in our supply chain align with our requirements, including asking for sourcing locations. We’ve taken this a step further by piloting more in-depth location tracking in select supply chains to understand deforestation impacts.

Q: What concerns do you have if biodiversity is not addressed?

A: There is critical interaction and interdependency between different species existing on land and in water. As humans, we are highly dependent on the natural resources in our environment—we need food, water, shelter, and other resources to survive. At Kroger, we sell many different products through in-store and e-commerce channels, and we recognize the need to protect natural ecosystems to ensure sufficient supply for future generations of customers.

Q: What benefits do you see in implementing seafood traceability, both for your business and for the environment?

A: Traceability is becoming more important to gain a better understanding of supply chains and to comply with regulatory requirements. With increased visibility, we can achieve the most effective management of products across the value chain. This is true for seafood and many other commodities we carry in our stores.

What’s next for sustainable seafood?

Through partnerships with global food companies, like Kroger, WWF has helped businesses transition their seafood supply chains to more sustainable, responsible, and traceable sources. We’ve seen success using certification and improvement models focused on individual fisheries, fleets, and farms, but we need to also address systemic issues across seascapes including biodiversity loss and climate impacts. A more holistic approach can help to scale efforts and generate better, lasting outcomes for people and nature.

WWF is working in coalition with industry leaders to address biodiversity loss and support the restoration of nature. Through partnerships and a science-based approach, we aim to create a roadmap for integrated action on nature and climate, ensuring the health and regeneration of ocean ecosystems.

To advance this effort, the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) Oceans Hub launched its first work stream: Seafood Value Chains. This workstream, led by WWF and Conservation International, recognizes that a science-based approach is needed to inform targets and incentivize action for companies, and it provides companies with a roadmap for integrated action on nature and climate. Through SBTN, companies can contribute, proportionately and holistically, to building resilience in ocean ecosystems and coastal communities, ensuring the ocean’s health is regenerated.   

With commitment and collaboration from forward-thinking companies, the future of seafood sustainability looks promising.