Safe Catch plus Scout lure consumers back to canned seafood

Trusted for its low-mercury wild tuna, Safe Catch acquires tinned seafood brand Scout to expand its portfolio, market reach and eco-impact.

Kelly Teal

May 1, 2024

6 Min Read
Safe Catch Tinned Fish

Safe Catch is swimming toward more market reach with the recent acquisition of Canadian canned fish brand Scout.

While the main impetus for the Scout deal had to do with broadening the Safe Catch portfolio, it also will translate into even more plastic removed from the world’s oceans, given both companies’ investments in sustainability efforts.

Safe Catch has not revealed the terms of the Scout transaction, which closed in early April. Both companies are privately held.

What brings Safe Catch and Scout together?

Much of Safe Catch’s rationale for the purchase tied to retailers’ demands, which were putting Scout, a four-year-old niche company, in a tough spot.

“Especially in this day and age, it’s hard for an upstart brand to survive in this environment with retailers getting more, for lack of a better word, greedy about slotting fees and promotions and discounts,” says Kevin McCay, chief operating officer at Safe Catch. “If you don’t have huge moneybags to survive kind of that initial push, it’s really, really hard to establish yourself to a point of profitability.”

Scout, per McCay, was struggling to do just that. Even though the brand has loyal customers and emphasizes sustainability, “they just couldn’t overcome those barriers to entry,” McCay says.

But teaming with Safe Catch gives Scout more resources—and lets Safe Catch cast a wider net. That’s because Scout specializes in craft seafoods such as mussels, lobster and salmon (and some tuna), as well as in sustainably farmed trout, whereas Safe Catch has focused mainly on other fish.  

“They represented a perfect opportunity for us to expand our offerings and be a little bit more opportunistic with experimentation of new species and new concepts,” McCay says.


Scout goes beyond tinned fish into seafood snacks—think wild yellowfin tuna in olive oil and za’atar or chili crisp seasoning. Before buying Scout, Safe Catch had also begun branching out into other categories. In fact, it just released a smoked trout through Sprouts Farmers Market.

Purchasing Scout and diversifying Safe Catch “happened in parallel,” McCay says, and the timing could not have been more opportune. “We’re looking for new ways to introduce other types of tinned fish at affordable prices and high quality, so that just aligned perfectly.”

At the same time, combining forces could at some point mean the removal of even more harmful plastic from the oceans. Right now, for every ounce of plastic Safe Catch uses in its packaging or throughout its supply chain, the company takes the same amount out of the world’s saltwater ecosystems. In the last two years, Safe Catch has paid rePurpose to extract more than 279,000 pounds of plastic out of the oceans. This year alone, Safe Catch aims to surpass 200,000 pounds.

In addition, Safe Catch will eventually include Scout’s products in its testing processes, further boosting its dedication to selling low-mercury fish. “They meet our criteria for sustainability and for quality, and we will most likely be offering [our] mercury testing to them over time,” McCay says.


Trusted for low-mercury tuna

Safe Catch, launched in 2014, has built its reputation on selling low-mercury tuna. While it offers salmon (some with flavoring), mackerel and sardines as well, the California-based brand set itself apart right away with its proprietary technology that tests every tuna for mercury within 35 to 60 seconds.

Among saltwater fish, tuna is one of the most notorious for accumulating toxic levels of mercury in its meat. That’s a danger to people, especially pregnant women and young children.

In response, Safe Catch, which started after the founder’s mother incurred mercury poisoning from eating a lot of conventional tuna, processes only tuna that meet its internal standards. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that any tuna containing over 1 part per million be destroyed or confiscated. Safe Catch sets its limit at 0.1 parts per million—10 times lower than the federally accepted number.

“We talked to a lot of doctors [and] scientists to find out that level that's going to make a difference,” McCay says. Any tuna that tests higher, Safe Catch won’t buy.

“We’re taking a representative sample of fish tissue, a 50- to 100-milligram sample of tissue, which is about the size of a grain of rice,” McCay explains. “Peer-reviewed studies have shown that mercury is relatively homogenous throughout the entire flesh of a fish, so that representative sample is going to be ultimately the same mercury concentration [throughout]. If it’s in our spec, it goes in the green bin. If it’s out of spec, a screen pops up and we simply don’t purchase it. It’s still probably a good fish, but it doesn't meet our standards, so it’s not a Safe Catch fish.”


When a disruptor challenges incumbents

Safe Catch claims it has tried to share its technology with the large canned tuna producers, some of whose fish Consumer Reports has said “shouldn’t be eaten at all” due to mercury content. Those vendors turned down the proposal, McCay says. And a few years back, a brouhaha ensued.

In 2021, the major tuna producers, through lobbyists and the nonprofit National Advertising Division, challenged many of Safe Catch’s packaging claims. Safe Catch had to hire lawyers and provide “reasonable basis” for its assertions. It did so and emerged mostly victorious in that legal fight.

“That was a really big moment for us,” McCay says. “We probably should have screamed that a little bit more from the mountaintops because it was a direct challenge by the existing industry of our claims—and we met that challenge. It was ruled that we could continue to use those claims because they were valid. That was a big milestone for us, on top of getting our technology certified a couple of years earlier.”

And, McCay says, contrary to what the well-moneyed seafood producers say, Safe Catch is not out to point fingers at them. “We're actually trying to bring people back to the category,” he says.

In the years since the federal government came out with mercury warnings, consumption of canned tuna has dropped. In 2004, nine out of 10 households had canned tuna in their pantries, according statistics McCay cites. After the advisories, it has fallen to six out of 10. That means the big tuna producers “lost 30% of the U.S. market, solely because of those mercury concerns,” he says.

But with its validated testing and safe-eating claims, Safe Catch seeks to lure buyers into consuming tuna once again.

“Anybody who's not eating tuna because of those mercury concerns, we're going after them,” McCay says. “They're not buying your tuna; they're not buying any tuna. We want to bring them back, and we haven't been able to get that through [the big producers’] heads.”

Sure, along the way, Safe Catch is “disrupting the industry,” McCay acknowledges. Yet the company’s ultimate goal, especially now with Scout, remains to revolutionize the seafood market, he says.

Safe Catch “is truly a product that's better for you and for the environment, better for the world,” McCay says. “That’s why we're taking these initiatives to be sustainable, to be plastic neutral, and we’re aiming to be carbon neutral. We want seafood to be the best opportunity for protein on the planet. That’s what we're striving for.”

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Teal

Kelly Teal has more than 20 years' experience as a journalist, editor and analyst in industries including technology and health care. She serves as principal of Kreativ Energy LLC. Follow her on LinkedIn at /kellyteal/

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