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Bolton exec talks tuna challenges, CSR issues, market outlook

IntraFish sits down with the group's CSR director Luciano Pirovano for an exclusive interview.

The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) recently appointed Bolton Alimentari International Marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Director Luciano Pirovano as new chair of its board of directors.

Pirovano joined Bolton as marketing manager in July 2007, and has held various roles at the group, before being appointed to his current role in March 2011.

Bolton Alimentari is parent to some of Europe's biggest tuna brands, including Saupiquet, Rio Mare and Palmera. In 2016, the group's fish division raked in a turnover of €658.5 million ($736.2 million).

Talking to IntraFish, Pirovani shares his primary goals for his tenure as ISSF chair, and gives his insight on tuna challenges and future outlook for the group.

What goals do you aim to achieve in your new role as ISSF chair of board of directors?

I am honored and proud to have been elected as the new chair of the ISSF board of directors and during my mandate I’ll do my best to progress the huge work that ISSF has been doing since 2009.

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In 2016, ISSF was able to achieve very good results and make progress in all of its three focus areas. In the area of science and the sustainability of tuna, ISSF carried out an increasing amount of projects like the one for the reduction of by-catch. In the area of transparency, it increased the number of vessels listed on the ProActive Vessel Register (PVR). In the area of advocacy, ISSF was able to involve an increasing number of stakeholders in its advocacy work. 

We have to build upon the work being done in these three focus areas so that ISSF can continue to make the difference to drive the global tuna fisheries to a more sustainable position. 

As the current ISSF strategic plan is set to end this year, I'm pleased to help lead the organization as it develops its next strategic plan. Some of the issues I am most passionate about include:

  • FADs: ISSF has been working for years to improve FAD characteristics, data collection and management. Most recently, ISSF adopted a conservation measure for the use of non-entangling FADs, but I think that we still have some work to do on this issue in cooperation with ISSF-supported scientists and biologists. We need to go on enhancing FADs characteristics -- for example introducing biodegradable non-entangling FADs -- and to work together with RFMOs and other stakeholder to better manage this fishing gear.
  • Fishery improvement projects (FIP): FIPs are becoming more and more a fundamental tool in tuna business and market expectations. Many ISSF tools, technical reports and science projects enable the work that must be done by vessels participating in FIPs. ISSF tools can be used to enhance the number of robust FIP that will be able to enter in full assessment for being MSC certified, and I would like to see the connection between FIPs and ISSF tools functioning more seamlessly.
  • Vessel community involvement: vessels are a key element of our supply chain and consequently the vessel owners should be more involved in ISSF processes and in FIPs.
  • Increase in ISSF participation: In order for ISSF to be most effective in its work, tuna processors in all countries should be engaging with the organization. Some critical gaps remain and therefore in the next years I would like to find the best way to increase the number of ISSF participating companies.

What role has the ISSF played in tuna sustainability and conservation progress?

ISSF has played an integral role in bringing together diverse players when it comes to sustainable tuna -- from industry, science, governments and the conservation community -- bringing these groups around the same table to tackle issues like bycatch and IUU fishing. Rather than considering the industry an adversary, ISSF enables cooperation and partnership between it and many sectors. And that catalyzes concrete efforts, when it comes to science and advocacy that promote the long-term protection and sustainable use of global tuna stocks.

How do you rate the current status of the global tuna stocks?

The latest ISSF Status of the Stocks report shows that, from the point of view of total catch, 76 percent of the global tuna catch comes from healthy stocks. Still, 31 percent of global tuna stocks are overfished and 17 percent are at an intermediate level. Therefore the situation is still positive, but we have to consider that when we started working with ISSF the healthy stocks accounted for about 92 percent.

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Clearly, we have more work to do ensure communities and economies can continue to rely on this important source of protein for generations to come. 

A critical step in reaching that goal is the establishment and implementation of harvest control rules (HCR) for every tuna stock worldwide. HCRs are well-defined 'action plans' for fishery managers to follow when a stock’s status changes; adopting HCRs is essential for effective fishery management. In addition, ISSF has done a great work with its advocacy activity aimed at pushing RFMOs to adopt HCRs.

ISSF’s specific mission is 'to improve the sustainability of global tuna stocks by developing and implementing verifiable, science-based practices, commitments and international management measures that result in tuna fisheries meeting the MSC certification standard without conditions.'

The existing ISSF resolution on fish capacity limitation is also very important in order to manage the fishing effort and consequently the global tuna stock, as many scientists agreed.

What are currently the biggest challenges for tuna processing companies such as Bolton?

In our business we will have to face some important challenges such as: value creation in the market, following consumers’ food trends and long term tuna stocks sustainability. We believe that innovation is fundamental in our business to grow in the future. For this reason in the last few years we decided to launch different new and innovative products such as tuna in olive oil with lemon and pepper, tuna in olive oil with chili pepper, 'leggero' tuna, that contains just a drop of extra virgin olive oil and it’s no drain or Rio Mare Natura, with just a drop of water that is tastier than any other tuna in brine.

Furthermore, sustainability is also becoming an important element of differentiation as it’s always more and more relevant in consumers choices, That’s why we are enlarging our 'sustainable' tuna range, that was created in 2012 with the launch of pole & line tuna and has been enhanced in 2016 thanks to the launch of Rio Mare FAD-free tuna and in 2017 of Rio Mare Linea Bio MSC certified tuna.

Are current tuna prices high enough for processors to remain profitable?

The demand of tuna will likely grow in the coming years, prices in tuna are becoming more and more variable, in this context I think that companies that are selling tuna as a commodity and are not able to differentiate their range are bound to suffer for their margins.

I believe that only assuring the quality of the product, innovating the range following consumers’ needs and boosting the number of sustainable products a company can remain profitable. These in my opinion are the elements to remain profitable, especially in countries where tuna process are high and growing.

What's the current fish processing capacity of Bolton? Do you plan to expand operations in the future?

Our Italian plant, located in Cermenate, near Como, is the largest and most technologically advanced tuna production plant in Europe and among the top in the world. In Cermenate we produce more than 3.5 million cans per day, both for the Italian market and for more than other 50 countries around the world. This impressive production operation is carried out with a great focus on quality and safety in terms of the ingredients used.

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In fact, the facility adheres to the most important international standards for quality management (ISO 9001), food safety (FSSC 22000) and traceability. Our advanced traceability system indeed is among the first in the world to be certified by an independent certification body in accordance to the ISO 22005 standard norming the traceability in the feed and food chain.

Thanks to our best in class plant, in which we are continuously investing we are ready to meet future challenges.

What role has Bolton played in improving workers welfare both in its supply chain?

Awareness of the important role it plays from an economic and social point of view, Bolton Alimentari has committed itself to constantly developing the supply chain in a responsible manner, investing both in technological innovation as well as in the professional growth of the people that work in the company. 

In fact, the focus that Bolton Alimentari places on the marine ecosystem and environment where it works extends to the people and communities involved throughout the supply chain. This includes the company’s employees and those who contribute to the company’s activities in distant countries.

All Bolton Alimentari personnel and all the suppliers with which the company works must share its ideals and daily practices to guarantee coherent, uniform results, stemming from a common effort, performed in full respect of its guiding values and operating principles. These are summarized in the Code of Ethics of the Bolton Group, of which Bolton Alimentari is a member. This document considers all aspects related to the health, safety and rights of its workers. 

Not only does the company guarantee full, unconditional, compliance with the code but it also advocates that the rules contained therein are respected by its suppliers for the entire duration of the contract. Furthermore, at the end of 2016, Bolton Group has also launched its Human Rights Policy, that all our suppliers have to subscribe and follow.

What are currently your biggest markets and where do you see future growth opportunities?

We are an Italian company and Italy is still our main market but we are performing very well also in foreign countries. Currently, Rio Mare is the No. 1 canned tuna brand in Europe, and we sell our products in 50 countries worldwide therefore we see opportunity of growth in other countries in which we do not sell our products yet.

Moreover, in the countries in which we are already present, including Italy, we believe there is still a lot of work to do following the evolution of our consumers’ life habits who search for healthy and easy to use convenience products.

Are you seeing a trend toward a more sustainability-conscious consumer in Italy?

For Italian consumers, sustainability is becoming more and more important. This is a trend that stood out recently during a survey conducted in Italy by MSC together with the independent research and consulting firm GlobeScan. What came out is that 77 percent of the surveyed consumers say that it is essential to consume fish products from sustainable sources in an effort to help safeguard the seas.

The same research points out the important role that labels play in this: for 68 percent of those interviewed, the sustainable label is an element that makes a product more attractive. That’s why we are enlarging our tuna range, differentiating fishing methods and tuna species.

What are Bolton's strategic CSR goals in the mid-term?

Protecting the marine ecosystem, respecting people and the environment and a commitment to proper nutrition are the foundations of Rio Mare’s corporate social responsibility program called 'Responsible Quality.' This is a journey shared by all at a company-wide level that has led Bolton Alimentari to create its own social/environmental report, which will be updated in 2017.

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Over the years, we’ve achieved great results in the four main areas. In terms of fishing, since 2009, we have supported ISSF initiatives. We are founding members of this organization, and one of the most important milestones was undoubtedly the creation of the PVR, in order to track boats that adopt practices that support sustainable fishing. We have added all of our boats to this register.

Furthermore, to decrease our environmental impact, we have improved product packaging, making products more compact in order to use fewer materials with a reduction of 44 [metric] tons of tin plate every year. Also, in the Rio Mare plant in Cermenate, we use energy from 100 percent renewable resources and we reuse 99.8 percent of product waste.

In terms of charity initiatives, since 2011, we have worked with the food bank, which we have donated more than 1.6 million cans of tuna to over the last five years. And we work to make the entire supply chain responsible via a procurement management model that favors the growth of local economies, bettering the living conditions of the entire community.

As for nutrition, in addition to obviously ensuring the excellence in quality and safety of our products, we are committed to sharing information about proper nutrition and the benefits of eating fish, for this reason we are partners of the European Campaign for Promotion of Mediterranean Diet promoted by the International Foundation of Mediterranean Diet.

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