Bumble Bee's "Catch to Can" Program
For years, tuna companies have had the capability of tracking their fish back to harvesting vessels. But one company has decided to share that information with the masses.
San Diego, Calif.-based Bumble Bee Seafoods recently launched http://BumbleBee.com/TraceMyCatch, a website designed to allow consumers to follow their tuna from catch to can by entering the product code found on the bottom of cans or on the back of tuna pouches.
"The Bumble Bee tuna supply chain is expansive, complex and diverse, capturing trips and data from nearly 500 longline vessels and well over 100 purse seine vessels operating in four ocean areas around the globe," said Mike Kraft, Vice President Corporate Social Responsibility for Bumble Bee Seafoods.
The company's traceability efforts afford greater visibility and access to sourcing information, creating more efficient reporting and information gathering, Kraft added.
"This also means we are able to trace products for food safety as well as verify that the tuna entering our supply chain is legally harvested and meets all of our (International seafood Sustainability Foundation) sourcing commitments," he said.
Bumble Bee's traceability program is a reflection of consumers' growing appetite for knowledge of where their food comes from, said Bill Jacobson, business and industry specialist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Sustainable Fisheries Division.
"Years ago, consumers didn't really care; it didn't seem like there was very much interest in knowing where it was caught, other than it was not involved in the association of dolphins," said Jacobson, whose Long Beach, Calif. office has been conducting spot check audits of cans and pouches of tuna for years to ensure that they are dolphin-safe verified.
"Now it seems like people are more interested, and I think the tuna companies are going to be more proactive in getting out the real information so that there's no misinformation of where it was caught, by who and when," Jacobsen said.
Tuna companies such as StarKist and Chicken of the Sea have dedicated web page real estate to their commitment to sustainable practices. Wild Planet, founded in 2004 on the idea that harvesting wild seafood and preserving the natural marine habitat can coexist, is chockfull of information about the various methods of catching fish.
Bumble Bee's traceability program, launched in October, takes the information even further. For example, a sample Bumble Bee code showed that the tuna is 100 percent albacore caught in early 2015 in the South Pacific using longline fishing gear and processed at a plant in Ovalau, Fiji. It also details the name of the vessels on which the fish is caught.
"There is a growing desire from consumers and retail partners to know exactly where their food comes from and Bumble Bee is getting out in front of this trend with complete transparency to meet these interests and educate consumers," Kraft said.
The feedback for BumbleBee.com/TraceMyCatch has been well received, Kraft said.
"We have received positive feedback about our leadership in bringing this type of information direct to consumers," he said. "We will continue to make improvements to ensure our traceability site is consumer-friendly and easy to use."
Jacobson said he was pleasantly surprised by Bumble Bee's transparency.
Most tuna companies are reluctant to put that much information out to the public. On Chicken of the Sea's website, the company states that the product code "tells where and when the product was packed as well as the pack style, the ingredients and other information regarding the product. Each packer considers this information strictly confidential and, for this reason, we cannot share the code breakdown."
"Fishermen have always been very secretive of where they catch the fish because, obviously, they don't want to tell everybody where the best spot is," Jacobson said. "But Bumble Bee was able to present the information in a way that's not revealing their secret area, but in general oceanic terms."
Bumble Bee is working on expanding the data availability, Kraft said. The online Trace My Catch consumer feature captures data starting with tuna products produced at the beginning of this year.
Given the complexity of the supply chain, the number of facilities involved, the time required for materials to progress from catch to finished product and the shelf-life of tuna, the number of tuna products traceable on the site will build over time, he said.
As technology becomes more sophisticated and the ability to process traceability data becomes easier to share, Jacobson said he expects other tuna companies to follow suit.
"I think it's going to be a trend that most companies will follow in the future," Jacobson said.