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Fishing for sustainability

Agar Supply Co.
Taunton, MA
008 sales: $551 million
2009 ID Top 50 rank: 13
Web site: www.agarsupply.com

Most distributors offer private-label alternatives to regional and national brands, but Agar Supply Co. has put a new spin on the concept. Driven by its customers to simplify the sourcing of sustainable seafood, the Taunton, Massachusetts, broadliner developed a new private-label seafood line that’s both sustainability-driven and supports education about protecting ocean habitats through penny-a-pound donations to the nonprofit Ocean Alliance. Dubbed Nautifish, the line has grown from three items to 58 since it debuted last year. Some 1.2 million pounds of Nautifish products were sold the first year, sending $12,000 into Ocean Alliance coffers to support research and education.

Gary Lanoue, Agar’s seafood category manager, says the company developed four primary criteria for products: quality, sustainability (either fully sustainable now or in the process of being certified sustainable), 100 percent recyclable packaging and complying with the penny-per-pound donation.

The most difficult challenge Agar encountered in all this was finding recyclable packaging. “Everything that’s come through a seafood cooler has always been packed in wax-coated boxes, which only end up in landfills—they’re not at all recyclable,” says Lanoue. That was clearly at odds with what we were trying to do, so we worked with packaging companies to develop a new spectra-coated corrugated box that’s 100-percent recyclable.”

Lanoue says Agar was able to work with many of its existing suppliers in launching Nautifish, but that it also has brought on new vendors able to meet the brand’s specifications. “A lot of it has to do with forcing the issue,” he says. “This is what we want, it’s what our customers want, and we need them to do it this way or we’ll find other suppliers that will.”

As to the brand’s mascot, the grinning shade-wearing fish with a catch of his own, Lanoue says he’s now a fixture from company food shows to YouTube videos. “Some people don’t get the idea of the fish with a human on the end of his line,” he says, “but the idea is that Mr. Nautifish has caught a human and will teach him how to do it right.”

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