Sustainable seafood—my correspondence with Coles

Although I prefer to buy my fish fresh, I do like to have some backup options in the freezer. With this in mind I bought a 1 kg pack of Coles Southern Blue Whiting Fillets in early June. I did the usual checks:

Certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)—tick.
Wild caught—tick.
From New Zealand—tick.

One bit of small print I didn’t notice until I got my shopping home was ‘Packed in China’. So on 7 June I wrote a ‘please explain’ letter to Coles Customer Care:

So, the fish is caught in New Zealand waters, sent to China where it is packed and then returned to Australia to be sold in your supermarkets. Why isn’t it processed and packed in this part of the world, in either New Zealand or Australia?

While the actual fish may indeed be sustainably sourced, how does transporting it to China and back constitute an environmentally sustainable practice?

A fortnight later I received this reply.

Coles responded to questions I hadn’t asked—about the quality standards of their supplier’s facility in China—while ignoring the questions I did ask. So I wrote another letter on 24 June asking them to address what I was actually asking. How do all the additional and unnecessary air or sea miles involved in transporting the fish to China and back again contribute to environmental sustainability?

A month later I received a reply. Word for word the same letter they had already sent me. Even the date was unaltered.

On 28 July I wrote a third letter. I reiterated my questions. Pointed out that they were (again) supplying information I had not requested. Asked them not to disregard my query, and to please not send me another form letter.

It’s now the middle of December and I have yet to receive any response from Coles to my third missive. I suspect I won’t. All up, a frustrating and totally unsatisfactory exchange. Coles twice ignored my questions and when I persisted, chose to ignore my letter altogether. Doesn’t say much for their customer relations, does it?

3 thoughts on “Sustainable seafood—my correspondence with Coles

  1. I have purchased an identical product but from a different retailer; Spudshed Store in the West.You guest it, according to the packaging the ‘fisherman’s choice’ brand battered whiting is sourced in
    Australian ocean waters; shipped to China for packaging and shipped back to Australia for sale. Not bad, a ten thousand mile round trip all for just $6.95 a kilo bag. (about 8 fillets).

    I am currently having a debate with a guy in Nevada who seems to think that the big stores are transparent and nothing would get past their rigorous quality control.

  2. 8 March 2022

    Southern Blue Whiting – caught in NZ, processed in China, retailed in Aussi. I have seen the deep frozen packaged product in Coles and felt dismay at the food-kms involved. But Coles are not the only retailers, just today also sighted in a family-owned-operated foodstore in rural Victoria offered as thawed individual fillets. My guess is a fishing operator or buyer in NZ uses the China connection as the means to get product out to the Australian (or even World) Market at the lowest possible price. Coles and others are simply taking up a wholesale offer.

    What I find amazing is that the fish can retail here at $6 to $8 per kg. So what must the Kiwi fishermen be getting for their capital/operating/labour input ….peanuts??

    Australia, we need to be smarter.

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