by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor
The Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI) has added Sysco Corporation to its list of founding members, providing additional support to the organization’s goals of harvesting and distributing the highest-quality and most-sustainable seafood catch from the Gulf of Mexico for the benefit of all consumers.
“It is important that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico remains available to the American consumer,” said Nehl Horton, Senior Vice President and Chief Communications & Government Relations Officer. “That’s why we saw it as absolutely necessary to become a part of the Gulf Seafood Institute.”
Headquartered in Houston, Sysco is a global leader in selling, marketing and distributing food products to restaurants, healthcare and educational facilities, lodging establishments and other customers who prepare meals away from home. The multi-national company’s 196 local distribution facilities serve approximately 425,000 customers across the U.S. Sysco’s approach always has been to focus locally on delivering the highest quality food and seafood sourced from local providers.
Sysco’s story started in 1969 at a time when working women wanted more food prepared by others. Americans were eating out more than ever, and studies predicted that more than half of all meals would be eaten away from home by Year 2000. John F. Baugh, a founder and the first Chairman & CEO of Sysco, envisioned a national foodservice distribution organization and shared ideas with industry friends across the country. His dream became a reality when nine foodservice distribution companies joined to form SYSCO (an acronym standing for SYstems and Services COmpany).
Coast to Coast Seafood Sourcing
While national in scope, the company has always focused on the importance of providing a balanced supply chain, which includes connecting local suppliers to Sysco’s customers. One of the company’s longstanding strengths is its presence and leadership in the farm-to-table and sea-to-plate movements for produce, meat and seafood.
This is particularly evident in its approach to sourcing domestic seafood. The company’s specialty seafood divisions dot the map from coast to coast – Florida, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, Texas, California, Washington, to name several. In the past three years, Sysco bolstered its ability to source the freshest seafood from the Gulf of Mexico when it purchased Houston-based Louisiana Foods and Orlando-based Central Seafood. Louisiana Foods, founded in 1972, is recognized for its longstanding relationship with Gulf fishermen and renowned for sourcing the best local shellfish and seafood from the Texas to Florida coast. Central Seafood is also a Gulf-focused wholesale seafood distributor that’s been operating since 1983.
Buddy Guindon, owner of Katie’s Seafood Market in Galveston, a longtime fisherman and supplier for Louisiana Foods, is glad to see Sysco’s support for GSI.
“It is important that companies like Sysco become involved with the Gulf Seafood Institute,” Guindon said. “As a member of GSI, I welcome Sysco, as they are the largest purveyor of seafood in North America.”
The new partnership with GSI has already paid dividends for Sysco on Capitol Hill. The company was closely involved in key conversations regarding red snapper catch limits for commercial and recreational fishermen in the Gulf.
Partnering with Local Suppliers
Local suppliers, including fishermen and seafood processors, are an integral part of Sysco’s success. According to Eric Buckner, senior director of seafood at Sysco, the company works daily to be its customers’ most valued and trusted partner, relying on strong relationships with suppliers that have sustainable practices and can connect first-rate seafood products to chef-driven restaurants.
“Our commitment to seafood starts on the water. For Sysco brand-sourced seafood, we have a quality assurance program that includes the inspection, monitoring and tracing from the source of the product to our customers’ locations,” Buckner said. “This process is designed to ensure food safety, quality, consistency, sustainability and integrity.
“While the seafood industry may be one of the most regulated sectors, it’s no secret that the regulations are sometimes challenging to enforce,” he said. “When quality and integrity are expected, but difficult to enforce, experience and leadership are your best bets to hedge the risks. That’s when Sysco makes a meaningful difference. Through the unsurpassed standards of Sysco Quality Assurance, our customers are guaranteed reliability and consistency in their seafood, especially Gulf seafood.”
Buckner also noted that today’s chefs want the freshest, highest quality, sustainable and traceable food for their customers.
“The challenge to satisfy chefs and consumers continues to evolve. No matter where we source seafood, though, we are committed to seeking out and working with the cream of the crop fishermen and processors who not only provide great products, but do so in a way that supports the long-term health of the fishery and the environment,” he said.
In addition to its new partnership with the GSI, Sysco also partners with the World Wildlife Fund, a leader on the complex issues related to seafood sustainability, as well as the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) and the Better Seafood Board. The company also partners with the Louisiana Shrimp Task Force and the Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute.
A Key Connection to GSI
Key to bringing Sysco to the GSI table was Jim Gossen, chairman of Sysco Louisiana Foods and a GSI Board Member representing Texas. For more than 40 years, Gossen has worked with fisherman and their families on the Gulf coast, understanding their histories, listening to their challenges, and watching their children and grandchildren grow up around fishing.
“I am fortunate to work with some of the best fishermen in the Gulf,” Gossen said. “Before we joined the Sysco family, Louisiana Foods had partnered with Sysco for more than 25 years. Their help was a big part of our success. I was proud to connect our family of fisherman to a company that is committed to seeing these Gulf fishing families grow and prosper.”
Sysco also is at the forefront of developing strategies for the responsible sourcing of wild seafood products through sustainable buying practices and standards.
“Joining the Gulf Seafood Institute is part of the multiple-stage commitments Sysco has made to ensure wild seafood supply sustainability,” Buckner said. “Our commitment is to have 100 percent of the top 10 Sysco-brand, wild-caught seafood species sourced from fisheries that are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council in their full assessment process, as well as to be involved in fishery improvement projects with the World Wildlife Fund.”
Margaret Henderson, GSI’s Executive Director, said that Sysco brings a great deal of experience and expertise to the group of GSI members.
“From fresh Gulf finfish to superior Gulf shrimp to gourmet Gulf clams, Sysco has all the Gulf seafood any customer needs to continue the tradition of quality,” Henderson said. “With their membership in our organization, we are excited to partner with a company that has a solid commitment to the Gulf, sustainable and traceable seafood, and the fishermen that bring their harvest to consumers across America.