Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Response from Whole Foods

About a week ago I wrote a letter to Whole Foods, asking them why they stopped scaling fish fillets. And guess what... I heard back from them. I was really surprised at how quickly they wrote back and expected a canned "Thanks for your feedback" response. Instead, the recycled paper I was holding in my hands was actually addressing the subject of my complaint. Here is what the seafood manager of my local Whole Foods said:
We strive for excellent customer service and in the future we ask that you let us scale your selected fillet of fish and have you inspect the product prior to wrapping. Unfortunately, as the fish industry moves higher amounts of fish everyday and most of the preparation is made at the processing plants, it gets difficult for us to add extra processing procedures to the large amounts of fish at the store level, but we are more than willing to do so on a one-to-one basis.

In other words, if you want your fish scaled you have to ask. But obviously they are hoping that not many people will ask. I do appreciate the honesty in the letter, but I don't appreciate the dishonesty in the store. They quietly stopped scaling fish without telling their customers. There was no sign or indication from the seafood staff that anything changed.

What he says about preparation being done at the processing plants has been true for a long time. Whole Foods does not fillet their own fish. But I learned something interesting in yesterday's talk FISHY BUSINESS: THE FISHING INDUSTRY IN NEW ENGLAND by Max Harvey, a fish buyer for many New England restaurants. Whole Foods can specify exactly how they want their fish prepared (filleted, scaled, boned, etc). Of course, they do have to pay more for scaled fillets. Max also mentioned that fish prices went up recently. So I wonder whether selling fillets with scales is Whole Foods' way to save costs. I have no idea if that's really the case -- it's just my guess.

I find it strange that small fish markets can get fish already scaled, while a big fish (no pun intended ;) like Whole Foods is "stuck" with whatever their suppliers give them. I have a feeling that Whole Foods is getting exactly what they want. If their customers haven't given them hell about this issue yet, I guess everyone's happy.

So thanks dear Whole Foods for offering to scale my piece of fish, but I'll go to a real fish market for salmon, striped bass, red snapper, or any other fish I plan to eat with the skin.


Alanna said...

And don't fish with scales weigh more? So by leaving the scales on, not only does WF reduce expense but also simultaneously increase revenue. Fascinating that the response came so quickly, however and was more than a "thank you for your input" computer-generated, no-answer letter like most.

Erin Eats said...

I'm glad they actually replied to your question.

Thanks for the nutritiondata link, it's a fantastic resource that I'm sure I'll use daily. I am trying to lose weight, but more importantly, I'm trying to gain health, and the easiest way for me is to jump in and learn about all things calories, so I know what I'm eating without being blind to what I'm *really* eating.

shoma said...

Thanks for the information re: Whole Foods. I'm glad they responded so quickly to your letter -- at least they're trying to be customer-oriented. But I'm appalled at their rationale behind the scales. Surely with their buying clout, Whole Foods can negotiate to get their fish scaled...

:) Shoma

Trevor said...

stop being such lazy american fatasses and scale the fillets yourself. It is fresher with scales on and WF makes sure they are buying from reputable distruibutors unlike your local fish market. Wait, i have an idea. Stop caring so much about it and get a life.

Anonymous said...

FYI-One of the reasons that wild salmon isn't scaled is the fact that it tends to soften the flesh substantially. Controls associated with farmed fish allows them to come out of the pen and can be scaled post rigor and they tend to hold up to the scaling process. Unfortunately wild salmon although often bled and iced may still take a day or two until it reaches a distribution/processing point to be scaled. Time and time again we've seen wonderful wild salmon become inferior in order to have it's scale removed. It does ad labor costs but recovery reduction is minimal. As informed seafood buyers ask these types of important questions when visiting a Whole Foods Market and request to have you salmon scaled if your scale concerned. Also, of note is that all pin boned removal which is traditional in farmed processes and you may be use to having them removed, may not be done with wild salmon. Most wild salmon have to sit 24-48 hours before pin bones can be removed successfully reducing freshness prior to eating. Leaving pin bones in can mean a fresher salmon fillet to the seafood lover. There are drawbacks to wild salmon but they are out weighed by the flavor differences.

Helen said...

Somehow I doubt that Whole Foods is looking out for my well being here. Not only is the wild salmon not scaled, but so is striped bass, red snapper, etc. They have lately changed from completely unscaled to poorly scaled, but that doesn't improve matters significantly.

josh said...

ok, here's my perspective as a whole foods fishmonger.
fish tend to keep better with scales on, just as they tend to keep better whole. less processing=less degradation. salmon and trout usually are left unscaled; however, our snapper is always scaled. perhaps it is because of our particular relationship with snapper here in the south? occasionally scales are left on when we know we'll need to remove the skin; fillets are much easier to skin unscaled.
also, whole foods owns and operates 3 processing and distribution facilities, and a 4th temporary one that sets up in alaska during salmon season. we therefore have some control over what we order, but as with any store and any supplier, things don't always arrive as ordered, and there are regional and national merchandising plans that also dictate on occasion what must be sold and how.
all that being said, at my store all the fillets are scaled (if not skinned) with the exception of salmon and trout.