In spring 2021, the Japanese Consumers’ Co-operative Union (JCCU) launched the “CO·OP Sustainable” product series comprised of sustainable agricultural, forestry, livestock, and seafood goods and CO·OP Brand Products made from these.
In May 2021, together with the “Consumer Co-op 2030 Environmental Sustainability Policy” (which is promoted by all consumer co-ops in Japan until 2030 to achieve a sustainable society), the JCCU formulated the “2030 Goals for CO·OP Brand Products” and released the CO·OP Brand Products “Basic Policy on Responsible Procurement,” which further promotes responsible procurement that considers the environment and respects human rights throughout the supply chain.
Satoshi Matsumoto is in charge of research and drafting concerning the procurement of seafood at Sustainable Procurement / Merchandising Division. Let’s hear more from Mr. Matsumoto about the background and significance of these initiatives, which won in the Leadership category of the 3rd Japan Sustainable Seafood Award run by the Japan Sustainable Seafood Award Committee (*).
Japanese Consumers’ Co-operative Union (JCCU)
JCCU consists of 314 co-ops in each area in Japan and co-op unions (as of October, 2021) . It was founded in 1951, and its supply/sales is 43.96 billion JPY. It mainly works for developing private brand items and supply, e-commerce, and supporting members’ businesses and activities. Co・op logo, a white letters of “co・op” in a red oval was created by JCCU.
— The JCCU has long been involved in sustainable seafood issues, handling MSC-certified seafood since 2007. What prompted you to launch the award-winning CO·OP Sustainable product series?
Even with the increased number of certified sustainable eco-labeled products, eco-labels have yet to penetrate the market, and many consumers are still unaware of it. I’m sure other companies have been experiencing the same concerns.
The JCCU develops private label CO·OP Brand Products and provides them to member co-ops throughout Japan. Member co-ops conduct their own businesses, such as home delivery and store operations, and consumers join their local co-ops as union members.
Although CO·OP Brand Products carry a variety of certified eco-labels, we began considering this series in response to opinions such as needing to make certified sustainable products more recognizable to union members or making our message easier to convey through design and other means.
Even if a product has an eco-label, consumers tend to overlook it if it is not well known. We felt our message would be easier to convey if we integrated the package design and logo, grouping the eco-labeled products as sustainable products.
Our marine CO·OP Brand Products have four eco-labels: MSC, ASC, MEL, and BAP . Since the union members are often confused about the labels’ meaning, we also considered they might be easier to understand if they were all branded under a common message.
— It sure is a good idea to group eco-labeled products together under a common logo.
We have been discussing the concept of the CO·OP Sustainable product series since FY2019 and exchanged opinions with our member co-ops nationwide, finally launching the products this spring.
Our certified seafood eco-label CO·OP Brand Products include the message “Protecting oceanresources” under a common logo, making it easier for union members to find and choose sustainable seafood on the sales floor.
— What was the idea behind the CO·OP Sustainable product series catchphrase “Tastes and Delights Lead to the Future”?
We know from our long experience that an eco-label does not guarantee the product will sell. Consumers prioritize taste and quality when selecting processed and unprocessed seafood. Price-value and ease of use are also important.
n the first place, consumers would not buy the product if the design’s foundation is not solid, and sustaining the product itself will become difficult even with an eco-label. During our meeting with the marketing department to create a catchphrase, we discussed that simply saying the product is sustainable due to the fishery that caught it would not be enough to gain the support of the union members.
For example, the Norwegian Atlantic mackerel is caught from September to November, which is considered their best season because of their high fat content during that time. It is said that most would concentrate their catches at times of the year when the fish is tasty and of high value because they manage the fishing vessels’ catch quotas using the IQ (individual quota) system. Although it’s unfortunate that the MSC certification for the Atlantic mackerel is currently suspended, properly managing fisheries and stocks also leads to tastier fish. We discussed the idea to convey this message as well.
— Most would associate sustainable products with being expensive. How do you make them affordable?
Some consumers do indeed associate these certifications with being expensive. In the case of MSC, we believe certifying the ingredients in larger batches will reduce the degree to which the certification cost will impact the price of the raw materials. An example would be the prices of our CO·OP Brand Products made from mackerel or Pacific Ocean perch. We did not raise their prices simply because of the MSC-certified label. However, for some fish species, MSC-certified ingredients may be more expensive than non-certified ones.
— At the 3rd Japan Sustainable Seafood Awards, Kochi and Miyazaki’s efforts to obtain MSC certification for their inshore pole-and-line skipjack tuna fisheries won the Collaboration category. It’s a good example of how fishers can divide costs if they band together to obtain MSC certification.
It really is. In the future, we hope to develop products using MSC-certified skipjack and tuna in Japan.
— What was the reaction of member co-ops to the implementation of the CO·OP Sustainable product series?
Since each member coop is an independent organization, each reacted differently to the proposal at first.
However, rather than just giving them the definition, we explained that positioning the product as something that supports production and resource utilization that “lead to the future” (through the union members’ usage) and adding the common logo CO·OP Sustainable will broaden the awareness of the union members and society to the efforts of the co-ops, and gain their understanding. Since we were switching from products that already had eco-labels, the post-launch implementation is proceeding as planned
— How is the response now that around six months have passed since launch?
So far, we feel that we have just started getting the word out about the series to the union members, but we have received feedback from those who have heard our explanation that it has made it easier for them to choose their products. Our member cooperatives have also started including special features and descriptions of the CO·OP Sustainable product series in their home-delivery catalogs, so I believe they are gradually working on it.
We’ll need to expand the series’ lineup to increase awareness. As for seafood , we currently have around 40, and we plan to increase the number to nearly 100 by next spring/summer. We will basically incorporate eco-labeled products that are already on the market into this series, as well as products that can be newly eco-labeled.
— There are only 12 MSC-certified fisheries in Japan. Are the seafood products in the CO·OP Sustainable product series made primarily from imported ingredients?
Most of our products are currently made from imported raw materials. As for the products we are handling, our walleye pollock, the ingredient for our cod roe and fish paste products, is produced in Alaska and Russia. Our Pacific Ocean perch and flounder are from Alaska. As for our domestic products, our scallops from Hokkaido are MSC certified. We are planning to release products that use domestic MEL-certified ingredients in the future.
>>>To be continued in Part 2
Click here to learn more about Mr. Matsumoto’s thoughts on sustainable seafood initiatives.