Last Update: August 29, 2023
It’s more difficult to grasp the importance of sustainable sourcing in seafood than it is in other food industries. For many, the ocean seems vast, limitless, and very far away from their kitchens. It may feel impossible to deplete the ocean’s fish populations, but in reality, unsustainable practices in the commercial fishing industry have led to overfishing, which has caused fish populations to dip to dangerously low levels.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, international seafood and fish production has quadrupled in the last 50 years, and fish populations aren’t able to regenerate as quickly as we catch them. While aquafarming and other practices have aimed to address overfishing and lessen the burden on wild fish populations, the commercial fishing industry is still largely unsustainable.
Henry Lovejoy and his wife, Lisa, are acutely aware of the harm that overfishing can cause, and they’ve spent more than 20 years aiming to create a more sustainable system. The couple founded their first company, EcoFish, in 1999, at a time when sustainability wasn’t even a part of the conversation. “I had been in the global seafood industry for about eight years prior to founding EcoFish. I traveled around the world and learned a lot about global fisheries, and quite honestly learned a lot that I was uncomfortable with,” Lovejoy remembers. “Generally, the lack of a conservation ethic in the fishing industry was really concerning to me.”
Lovejoy was so inspired that he took a year off from his job to enter a Harvard Business School executive education program, which helped him write a business plan for EcoFish. “To the best of my knowledge, we were the first company on earth to commit to a one-hundred-percent-certified sustainable seafood.”
Now a sustainable seafood sourcing, Lovejoy recently set out on his next endeavor: Freshé, a line of vibrant tinned fish products inspired by some of the most flavorful dishes from around the world, from Moroccan Tagine to Provence Nicoise. Sustainably caught salmon and tuna are combined with real, fresh ingredients like olive oil, hearty vegetables, and authentic spices, all packed in BPA-NI tins. The result is, quite literally, a world away from the canned tuna you may be used to.
We recently sat down with Lovejoy to talk more about Freshé and what makes it unique, from the quality of the seafood to the colorful packaging to the chef-inspired ingredients that enhance the flavor of the fish. He took us on a journey from Maine to Portugal to learn exactly what goes into creating the world’s best tinned fish.
What is the difference between Freshé and other tinned fish brands?
“If you look at the canned fish category in the U.S., traditionally there’s been no innovation for 50 years. It is always in the center of the store, it’s always 100 percent protein, and it’s been that way forever, since I was a child. If you compare it to the quality of tinned fish from Europe—like the cannery we work with in Portugal, where they literally invented it 170 years ago—it blows people away.
Here in the U.S., tinned fish is a hot trend, but now people are discovering a quality that never existed here. We had the worst quality canned fish in the world for decades, and that’s what U.S. consumers were used to. I grew up eating those tuna fish sandwiches, by the way, and I didn’t think they were too bad, but it’s like anything, you have this steak and then the first time you have the filet mignon, you’re like, wow.
We really saw an opportunity, because what people know in the U.S. as a sardine tin with an easy-open lid is an amazing way to prepare and preserve really high-quality food. You can eat them anywhere, instantly. They all mimic the Mediterranean diet. They’re super healthy. Everybody’s looking for quick, healthy snacks and small meals. So, between the category being ripe for innovation and the growing market for high-quality, nutritious snacks and ready-to-eat meals, we just saw the opportunity and ran with it.”
When you set out to create Freshé, how did you ensure that the fishing practices used were ethical and sustainable?
“Our brands all carry the Marine Stewardship Council or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council labels, meaning that they’ve been through very rigorous third-party standards. Both of those organizations were founded by the World Wildlife Fund. There are some certifications in the industry that are industry-sponsored, and we kind of see that as the fox guarding the henhouse — it’s much nicer if they’re independent of the industry, third party, and supported by the conservation community.
We became the first Marine Steward Council-certified seafood distributor in North America in 2001. When we started EcoFish, there actually was no certification for sustainable seafood, so we reached out to a number of nonprofits and asked them to be on our advisory board and help us with that until the Marine Stewardship Council or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council were formed.”
Why do you think it’s so difficult to uphold sustainable fishing practices at a large scale?
“I believe that seafood is the most complex food category on earth, hands down. You think about land-based agriculture, it’s really easy to go to a farm and see how they’re raising the pigs and the vegetables. But with fishing, it’s all hundreds, thousands of miles out to sea and it’s very difficult for consumers to wrap their head around it. The reality is, you can have the same fish that’s caught sustainably or unsustainably. Let’s take, say, a tuna. If a fishing boat is out there and catches it on a pole and line one at a time, that’s sustainable, but if they go out with drift nets and pull it in, and there’s some tuna in there, but there’s some turtles and there’s some sharks (which is called “bycatch”), that’s very unsustainable.
With all the intricacies, it can be a lot for consumers to try to digest and understand. Our mission from the beginning was to create seafood brands that consumers can trust, so if they care about the environmental impact when it comes to seafood, they become comfortable with the Freshé brand and know that we’re doing the homework for them. They know that it’s also going to be the best quality available and 100% all-natural.
We’re frustrated by the plethora of seafood brands out there that use the word “sustainable” in marketing their seafood, and they haven’t been through any certification, third-party audits, chain of custody. It’s used widely, but we feel it’s very important, similar to if you’re selling organic vegetables, if you say it’s organic, that it’s been certified organic. If you say sustainable, it needs to be certified sustainable. That’s very important to us.”
How did you come up with the flavors for your Freshé tinned fish varieties?
“We worked with a chef who is very well-known, he’s a leader in sustainable seafood in the culinary community, and we had a ball because basically we researched different trending global recipes that we thought would do well in this format, and then went to his test kitchen in his home and developed the recipes on his stove top in a pressure cooker, which basically mimics how tin fish is cooked in the tin after it’s sealed.
That was a two- or three- month process, then we literally took Mason jars on a flight to Portugal to the cannery we work with and sat down with their team and scaled our recipes up. So we went from a Mason jar in Freeport, Maine to a 170-year-old cannery in Portugal, which has been owned now for six straight generations. It’s the oldest family-owned and operated company in all of Europe, and they literally invented fish canning.
Three years ago, they built a whole new cannery that’s environmentally certified. It’s run by solar panels and they burn olive pits from the olive industry to power the plant. It’s state of the art. It’s so clean, you feel like you’re in a hospital, but they’re still hand-packing these meals for us, which is pretty cool.”
How do you, personally, like to eat Freshé tinned fish?
“Maybe somewhat selfishly, I feel like we developed this brand for ourselves and for our lifestyle. We’re in the great outdoors every single opportunity we get, and we always have them along with us. Actually, in our minds, we developed each to eat right out of the tin, and that’s how I primarily eat them. But there are so many different ideas that our customers have come up with for how to eat them. A lot of people will just have some crackers or bread along with them, some people are heating them up and putting them over rice or pasta, and some are incredible as salad toppers. You just have some beautiful greens and dump it on top, and you’re good to go.”
Download the app for easy shopping on the go
By providing your mobile number, you agree to receive marketing text messages from Thrive Market. Consent not a condition to purchase. Msg & data rates apply. Msg frequency varies. Reply HELP for help and STOP to cancel.