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Walmart buyer: We want seafood suppliers to drive change

Walmart Senior Buying Manager Trevyr Lester talks to IntraFish about the retail giant's approach to responsible sourcing and how suppliers can step up to the plate.

"We don't look at it as sustainability. It's about responsibility," Senior Buying Manager at US retail giant Walmart Trevyr Lester told IntraFish in the wings of the Seaweb Seafood Summit in Bangkok.

As one of the world's largest seafood buyers, the responsibility, needless to say, is huge, with all issues on the radar.

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"We look at everything. Surety of supply as well as social, environmental and ethical issues. To say there was one hot topic would do injustice to the issue," said Lester.

"We try to prioritize, but to me, they all become important -- they are all spokes of the same wheel -- so it's about setting up a system for that."

Walmart's buying structure is well-designed for the process, with a large responsible sourcing team across all its product lines that plays different roles in verifying and improving sources and supply chains.

Internally there is also a lot of collaboration between different buying departments, sharing strategies and challenges across sectors. "A lot of seafood lessons can be passed down," said Lester.

Walmart also encourages seafood suppliers to be proactive in the process. "We'd like to see buyers facilitate the need to change, rather than have us tell them what to do. When it's instructional it becomes slow," said Lester.

In terms of measuring the sustainability of its sources, Walmart uses a cross-platform approach, looking at certifications and fishery improvement projects (FIPs) to understand the progress of its sources.

"There is a lot of data management using SFP [Sustainable Fisheries Partnership] metrics," said Lester.

As to whether wild caught or aquaculture poses bigger challenges to responsible sourcing for Walmart, Lester says there is risk in any supply chain.

"In wild caught there is more complexity in the supply chain so it comes into the crosshairs more often," she said. "But farmed product is so important too."

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