The partnership between Meijer and La Nassa Foods allows the grocery store to provide more than 500,000 pounds of various fish to its customers. Courtesy Meijer Inc.
Thanks to the Midwest consumer’s general love of flaky white fish, Meijer boosted the growth of a Great Lakes fish company.
Since an initial handshake deal almost 20 years ago between Meijer and fish processor La Nassa Foods, the Canadian fish processing company grew from three ships and 35 employees to 11 vessels and 105 employees.
“In 1998, La Nassa was the smallest processor on Lake Erie,” La Nassa Foods President Tony Giacalone said. “With the many years of Meijer’s support in promoting lake fish, we have grown to become the largest processor on the lake.”
It’s the longest running partnership Meijer has with a Great Lakes fishing company, said David Wier, Meijer seafood buyer. When the partnership began, it was during a tumultuous time in Great Lakes fisheries, and La Nassa Foods was founded out of several business failures, Wier said.
“Meijer chose to partner with them at that time and wanted to really help them grow and develop,” he said.
Now, the partnership allows Meijer to provide more than 500,000 pounds of walleye, yellow perch and other species from Lake Erie to its more than 230 stores.
Meijer gets a majority of its walleye and lake perch from Lake Erie, and approximately 25 percent of the fish at Meijer seafood counters come from the Great Lakes.
Freshwater fish still make up a good portion of Midwest seafood counters, but the industry has shifted the past 25 years, Wier said. In the past two decades, fresh saltwater fish have been able to come to the Midwest more efficiently, he said.
As the Midwest is accustomed to the freshwater fish, he credits the familiarity with its texture and flavor as the reason for freshwater fish being a “legacy fish” for Meijer.
“If you grew up in the Midwest, like many of us at Meijer did, this is our hometown fish and we, and a lot of our customers, know it better than they know swordfish, tuna, cod or other saltwater fish,” Wier said. “Walleye, bass, perch … those fish out of Lake Erie were our only choice for fresh fish for a long time. It’s what we’ve grown up with, and it’s what we’re used to.”
The company delivers freshly caught fish to the Meijer distribution center in southeast Michigan four days a week, Wier said.
Among the main priorities for the partnership, Wier said, is La Nassa’s alignment with Meijer’s sustainable seafood policy to help ensure fish will remain in plentiful numbers in the Great Lakes and the world’s oceans.
Most of America’s quota for sustainable fishing is used for sport fishing, people catching fish on chartered boats for fun. The majority of commercial fishing is from the Canadian side, Wier said.
With La Nassa Foods on the Canadian side, Wier said the processor is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, an independent nonprofit organization setting sustainable fishing standards. Wier said the fishing standards are similar to the standards Meijer uses for recycling, packaging and energy-saving practices.
“They do a lot of work to study the population and set a total allowable catch, and that’s closely monitored by the Canadian government,” Wier said. “It’s important to Meijer that every species in our counter is harvested or raised in a sustainable manner.
“That’s incredibly important to the future of our business but also to the livelihoods of the fisherman we work with and the health of our lake ecosystems.”