Circular fish market

In a few days the next Re-think Circular Economy Forum event will be held in Taranto, where one of the main topics will be Agri-food. To get fully into this topic, we repropose an interesting Case study that was the subject of the speech by Gianmarco Deleidi, Sector Manager – Esselunga Fish Purchasing Sales Management, during the Re-think event held in Milan in February this year on the circular fish market.


Re-think and Esselunga

Gianmarco Deleidi began his speech by emphasizing how the word “Re-think” is truly representative of the soul of Esselunga, a company at the forefront in terms of innovation and attentive to the theme of circularity for many years already, driven also by the endorsement of the Ownership on these issues. The expression Re-think means at the same time reinventing, and rethinking models, and that is why the company wanted to integrate and correct, and in some cases even improve, all its processes at the supply chain level. All of Esselunga’s departments have been involved in the innovation process, but Gianmarco Deleidi’s talk focused on the Biandrate Processing Center where the company, a food company as well as a retailer, prepares all of the fish you see on the counters of its supermarkets.


The center is in the province of Novara, was created in 2007 and is a unique plant in terms of area and volume with 31 thousand square meters; an average of 25 thousand tons of product are processed here, resulting in waste production. Inside the new plant of about 12 thousand square meters are highly automated lines that allow intercepting all processing waste and, even, it is possible to set and modify products directly during the processing stages. Inside the fish processing center, there is also a 2,500-square-meter sushi plant and 1,000 square meters dedicated to the production of ready-to-cook (the “food trends,” products with high service content, which have a positive impact in terms of sales).


Esselunga’s sustainability plan

For Esselunga, Deleidi stressed, circular economy and sustainability must touch all points in the supply chain, involving suppliers as well. And that is exactly where the company started from, dealing directly with suppliers at the source, calling every day as a Purchasing Office distant countries-Sri Lanka, Maldives, India, Chile, and various countries in Africa-trying to transfer these concepts to all of them, trying to support them at 360°.


So, one of the goals of Esselunga’s sustainability plan, Deleidi continued, is precisely sustainable fishing: 100 percent of all fresh products, such as yellowfin tuna, swordfish, Norwegian salmon, that come from the supply chain and therefore under the Esselunga and Naturama brand, are raised in Italy and certified as sustainable fishing, to improve circularity in the fish market. For the caught product, we talk about selective, artisanal, hook and line fishing, which is a daily fishery that takes place close to the coast, around 80 nautical miles, with constant verification by certifying bodies (e.g. Friends of the Sea) that are as partners for the company as they evaluate suppliers in all parts of the world.


Sustainable fishing

This procedure is also used to verify the company’s business environment, analyzing, for example, the reduction of emissions from fishing vessels and waste management, so that we can guarantee quality and display an icon on our sustainable fishing packages. To date, Esselunga has more than 80 references involved in sustainable fishing, or in the circularity of the fish market. No case in the large-scale retail sector can boast such significant numbers. On the other hand, as far as the farmed product is concerned, Deleidi explained, it is necessary to monitor the fish during the life stages through a low density, which leads to a reduction in the use of the drug, which is an integral part of farming but must be reduced and managed as best as possible.


In addition, it is necessary to check the production sites and especially the environmental impacts they may have in terms of farming. Deleidi also pointed out that within the Fish Processing Center, Esselunga also deals with energy, as energy costs play an important role in the company’s economy. In fact, as of today, at the Biandrate site, Esselunga has four photovoltaic plants that produce about 300 megawatts, which is roughly equivalent to the consumption of about 100 households, covering about 3,000 square meters of industrial facilities and with a goal in 2022 to expand for another 1,000 square meters.


Recovered Polystyrene

In 2021 Esselunga also installed a trigenerator, which today allows it to guarantee 50 percent of the energy delivered in the Biandrate locations, 90 percent also from the thermal part of the fish processing center, and all the air conditioning in the offices. The company also deals with packaging as a very relevant issue in this sector because of the material used, polystyrene.


In 2007, Esselunga’s was the first plant in Italy built to recover polystyrene, and today the company recovers about 725 tons of polystyrene, reselling it to the industry that produces drainage asphalt, insulation panels, and polystyrene crates. Deleidi then delved into the issue of production waste. The Fish Processing Center to date has a waste of 3,000 tons, which is fully recovered.


The main problem with very fresh products, such as fish, is that it has a short shelf life, and as a result the plant has to have such a strong centralization that it can improve store reordering, depending on the sold. In this case, the strength is to have a center that produces 7 days a week, such as Esselunga’s, which is unique in the large-scale retail sector. A major innovation came in 2020, when the company decided to implement artificial intelligence in reordering in stores: a drastic reduction in waste was recorded.


Esselunga and fish waste

To date, almost 100 stores apply this innovation, but the company’s plan is to extend it to all 170 stores in the network. The second major challenge, Deleidi continued, concerns the waste that is generated in the fish processing center, because it embraces products such as sushi and ready-to-cook, as the Company directly handles the evisceration of all products that are then presented on the shelf. For this reason, Esselunga has created a very strong partnership with Lipitalia. This company has a plant in Rosta, which is dedicated exclusively to Esselunga’s waste, and is in charge of daily pickup of the very fresh product waste, which, once it arrives at this second plant (maintaining the cold chain), is shredded and exposed to a process of hydrolysis after enzymatic filtration, to guarantee the purity of the product, and pasteurization to ensure its safety.


The last step is the second filtration, which results in two types of substances: fish oil and marine hydrolysis, an aqueous solution for the petfood industry and animal feed. What remains from this process is further recovered and used for energy as biodiesel. The final step for the company, which is perceived by the end customer, is the final packaging. This, in fact, is a key part both in technological terms, related to the implementation within the plant of atp lines, a protective atmosphere that helps increase the shelf life of the product while maintaining the same organoleptic characteristics, and in sustainable terms, replacing plastic with a recyclable cardboard. This innovation has been applied for sushi and ready-to-eat, ready-to-eat dishes, making the fish market more and more circular. On the other hand, nylon nets were removed and replaced with biodegradable materials such as bionet and 100% recycled single-material packaging for the mussel compartment.


This shift was momentous because in the past three years, Esselunga has gone from zero to as many as 19 million packs sold created with sustainable packaging, becoming a leader in the circularity of the fish market.


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Francesco Castellano

Francesco Castellano holds a Master degree in Business Administration, and he has gathered almost twenty years of experience in research, finance, consulting, and business management. During this time, he was engaged in different types of projects as a consultant at Bain & Company, launched Uber operations in Turin, and worked in the FP&A department at General Electric.Lately, he founded To... Read more

Francesco Castellano holds a Master degree in Business Administration, and he has gathered almost twenty years of experience in research, finance, consulting, and business management. During this time, he was engaged in different types of projects as a consultant at Bain & Company, launched Uber operations in Turin, and worked in the FP&A department at General Electric.

Lately, he founded Tondo, a cluster of organizations focusing on spreading Circular Economy approaches and concepts, and supporting companies in the transition to a clean and circular future. Francesco is also the ideator and coordinator of the Re-think Circular Economy Forum, a format of events organized in many different locations in Italy showcasing the most relevant Circular Economy solutions.

Francesco has been a guest speaker at different universities and events, like Federico II University, Bocconi University, LIUC - Cattaneo University, Pavia University, Padua University, Catholic University, IPE Business School, 24ORE Business School, Campus Party, Torino Stratosferica, Visionary Days.

Francesco is passionate about Circular Economy, Cleantech Innovations, Venture Building and Entrepreneurship.