Something Fishy is Going on in the Seafood Supply Chain

by | July 11, 2023

Back in 2018, a team of EU scientists set out to take a close look at a perennial favorite in the seafood supply chain, the ever-popular snapper. Prized for its delicate flavor and firm texture, snapper is a mainstay of the global seafood industry, with a role to play in classic recipes from cultures around the world. As part of the investigation, the team examined samples of commercially sold snapper from six countries including the UK. The result? Fully 70% of the “snapper” wasn’t snapper at all. Astonishingly, the team found fish from 38 different species in the sample set, including protected species that no business being on a market shelf at all.  

Concerning? Definitely. Unexpected? Probably not.

Food fraud illustrates the challenges of an increasingly complex global supply chain

Though a few years have passed since that study, issues in the seafood supply chain continue. Of course, fish products aren’t the only food items that are frequently found to have been messed with upstream–not even close. The greatest hits list of commonly faked or adulterated products is all too familiar to food industry professionals: honey, olive oil, coffee, dairy products, saffron and other items make regular headlines. But seafoods provide a particularly clear illustration of the core challenges for processers, retailers, and brands. Fish products are part of an extremely complex global supply chain with many handoffs, and the point of origination can be hard to pin down. Moreover, every link in the supply chain, from the net to the shelf, is a potential opportunity for shenanigans. Unfortunately, the list of bad actors out there is long (if not particularly distinguished), and study after study finds results that echo the snapper case described above.  

In an increasingly complex and interwoven global supply environment, seafood illustrates challenges that are increasingly relevant across multiple categories. Shifting trade relationships, unreliable regulatory environments, production rooted in fragile and changing ecologies and resulting irregularities in supply create a chaotic global environment for well-meaning organizations to navigate. All the while, that recipe for pan seared snapper with saffron sauce (brushed with olive oil, of course) hasn’t stopped getting clicks.

Consumer expectations increasingly overlap ESG initiatives

Which of course is yet another facet of the problem. Compounding the challenge for retailers and brands, consumer interest in the quality and reliability of food products is high, and that interest ties into other, growing concerns around the global environment and the ethics of food production. Taken together, these concerns create an interesting overlap between food fraud, long considered its own arena, and sustainable sourcing concerns more traditionally considered to be part of ESG initiatives. While the wrong piece of fish getting to market is bad in and of itself, it’s a whole lot worse if the phony fish turns out to be a threatened species, or to have been improperly harvested. 

Through that lens, it’s easy to see how food fraud and sustainable sourcing concerns are gradually becoming intertwined with issues such as ethical sourcing and labor, which also have typically fallen under the umbrella of ESG. Though the risks are different, the causes are related. A complex, rapidly changing supply environment provides both opportunity and economic incentives for shady players to bend or even break the rules. In each case, the imperative for brands is similar: products need to be trustworthy, and what’s happening in the upstream supply chain can’t be harmful, exploitative, or just plain wrong. 

The fight for food integrity requires a new approach

The net result of all of this is a greater need than ever for retailers, brands, processors, and everyone in between to arm themselves with proactive tools to stay ahead of threats to the ingredient supply chain. The key word here is “proactive.” In an environment of tight deadlines and constrained resources, there’s a limit to the amount of human effort that retailers and brands can throw at the problem. Solutions that actively monitor at-risk material supply chains and critical suppliers offer an opportunity to move from reactive, search-based strategies and take the initiative back from the bad guys. 

Regardless of the materials involved, food fraud is no joke, posing serious threats to the industry and vulnerable species around the world. With strong global partners including SGS Digicomply, TraceGains is bringing powerful new capabilities to the fight for industry integrity. A robust set of solutions empowers businesses to rigorously vet suppliers and enforce regulatory compliance and quality practices, while mapping global alert data to customers’ unique supply chains, providing alerts when issues occur, saving valuable response time and automatically aggregating supplier performance data over time.   

Supplier Management:

TraceGains Networked Supplier Management is the trusted industry standard for building trusted supplier networks. Supplier management centralizes supplier and item data and documentation at the ingredient and location level, providing a crystal clear view of suppliers, materials, and overall supply chain performance. Supplier Management’s flexible model scales with your business, with solutions for emerging brands and growing operations, all the way up to enterprise-scale configurability, sophisticated integration options and industry-leading analytics and dashboarding.    

Horizon Scanning Global:

Horizon Scanning Global is the industry-leading Networked Intelligence solution for global risk management. Powered by the unrivaled reach of SGS Digicomply, Horizon Scanning Global collects incident data from thousands of global data sources, and uses AI technology to map global that intelligence to the suppliers and ingredients in each customer’s unique supply chain.  Configurable watchlists and alerts create an active risk management capability that helps brands, retailers, processors and more stay ahead of upstream issues.  

The good news is that for all the shady characters out there with bad intentions, there is also a growing, global network of data providers aggregating key intelligence and arming the industry to push back. Data is only useful, however, if it’s available and contextual when a decision needs to be made. Explore how TraceGains Gather™ with Supplier Management and Networked Intelligence can help you stay ahead of global risk. 

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