During the coronavirus pandemic many fish companies changed their business model and became more customer-focused. And as Brian Stormont found out, one fish supplier even got a helping hand from celebrity chef James Martin – albeit unwittingly!
While the site of the local fishmonger on the High Street is not a familiar one in many towns these days, fish distributors have reacted to this by offering delivery of the finest Scottish produce straight to your door.
Whether it’s fresh haddock, salmon fillets, lobster or something a little different, the best and freshest fish can now be ordered online and on your dinner table within a couple of days.
Many firms altered their business model during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown to offer home delivery and a number of larger distributors have now moved into the field offering consumer-based websites detailing the catch of the day for purchase.
Delivered to your door
One business which is making great strides is Fishbox.
Based in Fraserburgh, Fishbox offers the freshest seafood delivered straight to your door to suit you whether that be weekly, fortnightly or monthly.
The concept is simple and one that works extremely well.
By logging on to their website, you choose your seafood listing our loves, likes and dislikes, your box size and how often you would like to receive it. The company then hand packs your box dependant on your preferences and it is shipped off to you – from boat to plate in 48 hours!
Trying it out
Receiving a fish box myself, I was interested to see what it contained and have a go at cooking some of the amazing fish.
I received brill, sea bream, hot smoked salmon, smoked hake, ling, monkfish, brill, samphire and some oysters.
It was a fantastic selection and I will certainly be ordering in the future.
I chose to make pan fried brill with homemade sweet potato fries, tomato salsa and green beans which you can see in the video accompanying this story.
The smoked salmon was absolutely delicious in a salad and, being a meaty fish, the monkfish I made into a Thai green curry.
Home delivery key
Fishbox chief George Forman revealed that the move into home delivery has been key to building the business.
“We started doing home fish deliveries with our former company about three years ago but it didn’t really take off the way it should have,” he said.
“With our company Fishbox we have been focusing on home deliveries. There are 14 people working with us now, right from the market right to your door – no middle men at all. We buy from the market, we fillet it, we skin it, portion, vac pack it and pack it into boxes and post it.
“From sea bass to salmon to haddock, everything is processed in our place. We do our own smoking so we are in control of the quality right the way through.
“We do gift boxes as well. During the corona lockdown people were sending them fish boxes with a little note just to say: ‘Hi, we’re thinking about you’. We put a little card in with a nice message on it.
“It’s a subscription service which you can weekly, fortnightly, monthly whatever you like. You give us the hake of what you want to put in the box having looked at a preference list where you look at loves, likes and dislikes. We try to give you as many loves as possible and you don’t get a dislike.
“There is also a thing called Fishbox Club from which we do upsells. You get an email the Wednesday before telling you your box is due the following week asking if there is anything you want to add. We might have new products or seasonal products or on promotion and you can add these to your box.”
Many people are put off by fish because they don’t necessarily know how to cook it or have any experience with it. That’s where Fishbox step in.
“If you get five products in your box you get five recipes. If it was salmon last week or the week before then you will receive different the next time. It’s not only about getting fresh fish to your door it’s about providing a full service.
“Everything is skinless, boneless and, generally speaking, if we buy fish at the market on Monday you will have that fish by Wednesday.
“We can send live lobsters and live crabs, we send them through the post as well, and you get a little instruction card telling you what to do with your lobster.
“We do a lot of ‘how to’ on our Facebook page, showing you how we fillet fish and how to cook it. We are hoping to build the page so, for instance, on Monday we show you how to fillet, Tuesday we show you what’s seasonal Wednesday or Friday when your box arrives we tell you how to cook it, with lemon butter say, this fish goes well with this vegetable this fish goes well with that one. That kind of stuff, so we can build up a database so you can have an iPad next to you in the kitchen and you can watch how to do it.”
Your loves, likes and dislikes
One of the most popular aspects of Fishbox is the variety. Although you will let the company know about your loves and likes, you never know what is going to be in your box.
George added: “We have more than 70 products and that will soon be up to 100 so plenty to choose from. We are targeting an everyday dinner. So, last week, we took smoked trout trimmings and mixed it through with tagliatelle and basically cooked for four people for less than £5.
“Not every meal is like that, but what we are trying to do is be helpful. If it’s cold send you a fish pie mix. We also do a pet food mix for their dogs and cats. We are trying to cover as many angles as we can.”
On his journey, George has watched Fishbox develop a subscriber base that has now more than trebled since he took over and re-shaped its model.
“When we took over the business there were 1,000 subscribers and now we are up to 3,800 since March,” he revealed.
“There was a period of time when we had to say sorry we can’t take on anymore subscribers because we had only four people at the time.
“We have now got people in place – filleters, packers, trimmers and we have seen a huge increase in subscribers. We probably could have seen more, but apart from Facebook advertising and friend referrals we haven’t been doing any marketing because, if we were to get a massive influx of subscribers, we would be struggling to cope with everything that came to us at once. It’s important to build up slowly.”
A wee plug from James Martin
And there was a moment when celebrity chef James Martin inadvertently gave them a huge boost when he mentioned the word fish box on live TV.
George explained: “There was one instance when James Martin was cooking on This Morning and he had got a fish from an online service, think it was a John Dory.
“He filleted it and then cooked it and said ‘I got this from the Fishbox Club’. People typed in Fishbox Club and we came up.
“Between 12 o’ clock Thursday lunchtime and 1pm when everyone came back from their lunch we had 320 new customers!
“Again, we didn’t pay for this or anything it just happened. We were starting at 5 o’clock in the morning and finishing at midnight seven days a week just to keep up.
“We have more people in now and we are handling it better.
“We have had a few cancellations due to job security which I understand, but we are still picking up new customers and referrals are still the greatest thing we have because people say log in to Fishbox. You never know what is going to be in it and a lot of the products you wouldn’t get in supermarkets – smoked coli or hake for instance.
“On Facebook people say ‘love getting my fish box, never know what you’re getting’. During lockdown families were doing Zoom calls at 5pm on a Friday to see what everyone had in their box.
“I mean it’s like Christmas, maybe a bit cheesy a bit nuts but people were looking forward to it and it brings a smile to your face.”
Being environmentally friendly is massively important these days as all businesses try to become more sustainable in what they are using – and Fishbox is no exception.
“We have moved in to recyclable packaging, we used to have polystyrene boxes but everything goes into recyclable package. The vac packs they go into can’t be recycled but the box and the liner that keep it strong can all be recycled now and everything else we use is sustainable,” George said.
Amity Fish Company
Another company that has changed its entire business model due to the coronavirus pandemic is the Amity Fish Company, based in Peterhead.
Based at the heart of Peterhead Harbour, Europe’s largest fishing port, Amity Fish Company works with local producers to source and supply the highest quality of Scottish seafood to restaurants, fish and chip shops, the offshore sector and now direct to customer via home delivery across mainland UK.
The Covid-19 pandemic hit the business hard and they were forced to look at different ways of working.
Amity’s Jimmy Buchan explained: “Prior to the pandemic, our business was 90% business to business supply with a small portion of orders being from the general public. So when lockdown hit and eateries were forced to close we lost our regular orders overnight.
“We were faced with the prospect of shuttering the business and putting all staff on furlough, or pivoting and trying something new – at this point we made the decision to offer contactless doorstep deliveries direct to consumers as we were inundated with requests.
“After a couple weeks managing phones ringing off the hook we launched an online store allowing our customers to browse and order from our selection 24/7 and added a couple new ‘crew members’ to our team – this has really helped develop the direct to customer side of the business and provide a better customer experience.
“Our customers are getting to know the team well and put their trust in us to deliver the goods. Due to the popularity of the direct-to-consumer orders we made the decision to continue down this path and invest in a new company website and ecommerce store.
“Our new online presence better reflects the quality of produce we supply and provides a better customer experience for both our consumers and trade clients. Going forward, the business is a 50/50 split between direct to consumer and trade orders.”
Business had to evolve
It was clear to the Amity Fish Company that the business evolving was key to survival and the future of the enterprise.
Jimmy added: “The coronavirus crisis really has made a huge impact on our business and changed how we operate completely.
“Our business model had to change overnight. We were in a fortunate position where it was possible for us to meet the needs of consumers by delivering top quality Scottish seafood direct to their doors in a safe, contactless manner when they could not source it elsewhere.
“We are pleased to say many of these customers have become repeat customers over the last few months and so the decision has been made to continue catering for these customers even as our trade clients begin to return.
“Our business has involved into one that is both business to business and customer facing and the team are loving it.”
And the shift in focus has enabled the firm to find new opportunities it perhaps may not have encountered had the business model remained the same.
“The pandemic has made us look closely at how we operate as a business and implement changes where necessary,” the spokesperson added.
“We’ve learned a lot while fulfilling customer orders across our local area and meeting demand about how to do it more efficiently – and in a more environmentally friendly manner.
“We are aware there is a huge initiative to shop small and support local – many are also continuing to shop online to minimize the risk of going out. Our new website and online store may never have happened had it not been for these changes in society.
“We are also delighted to be working in close partnership with some other local companies to increase our customer reach. We have a fantastic relationship with Aberdeenshire Larder, who are passionate as we are about offering top quality local produce.
“We are pleased to be offering our selection of fine seafood to Aberdeenshire Larder customers through their own website – they also help us delivery our produce across the shire and beyond. We also run a weekly online market in the Aberdeen and Shire’s food hub among some of the region’s top producers.
“In addition to this we have a great working relationship with McLeod’s fish and chip shop in Inverness, whom we supply and they now provide a delivery service for our produce in the Moray and Inverness areas every week.”
Amity’s brand ambassador
Amity also realises how vital it is to take customers on the journey with them by providing advice and recipes which help to make them more confident preparing the product.
“In addition to making it easy for our customers to source great quality sustainable Scottish seafood, our team is on a mission to educate our followers on how easy it is to prepare and cook great seafood at home and introduce them to seafood they may never have considered trying,” revealed Jimmy.
“We recently partnered with a customer of ours, Rebecca Chalmers of Rebecca’s Cookery, who is now an ambassador for our brand.
“Rebecca would buy fish regularly from us through lockdown and post some amazing recipes on social media. We loved her recipes so much we have appointed her as our Amity Ambassador teaching our followers how to prepare and cook our seafood at home
“Not only does she create delicious recipes, but she also posts step by step videos on how to do the dishes – these posts have been so popular we incorporated them into our new website in a new recipes section.
“Our soon to be launched blog will also help educate on seafood and how it gets from the sea to your plate and our team are always on hand to provide advice to customers on our products if they are not sure how to handle them.”
New consumer brand platform
The news of fish distributors adapting their business models comes as Seafish, the public body that supports the UK seafood industry, launched its new Love Seafood consumer brand platform.
The new brand, which launched on October 1, is driven by a 20-year initiative to reverse the decline in consumption of seafood in the UK. It aims to positively influence attitudes towards and inspire consumers to incorporate more fish and shellfish into their diets.
Love Seafood is being launched with a new identity, website and social media presence. It replaces Fish is the Dish, the previous Seafish consumer brand.
Greg Smith, head of marketing at Seafish, said: “We’re incredibly excited to launch our new Love Seafood brand and see our extensive planning come to fruition.
“Our previous Fish is the Dish brand was successful and popular but as attitudes towards food and consumer behaviour change, it was time for us to take stock. We’ve relished the opportunity to re-evaluate where seafood is positioned in the minds of consumers, and in securing its long-term future relationship with the nation.”
“We’re realistic about what we want to achieve and the timescales required for this. We know we won’t change national attitudes overnight, which is why Love Seafood is a long-term initiative. We’re aiming to inspire a generational shift in attitude towards seafood and tell the story of this incredible industry.”
Amity are currently offering free delivery for orders over £60 and customers can get 10% off using code AMITY10 for a limited time.
Other fish companies you can buy online from…
Downies of Whitehills
Fish of the highest quality delivered daily to your door. Managing partner Alan Downie visits local markets at 5.30am each day to secure the best available for Downies of Whitehills. Packages despatched within 24 hours to arrive with you less than 48 hours after the fish was at market.
Camphill Fish is a partnership between Camphill Wellbeing Trust and Aberdeen fish merchant J Charles. 10% of sales go to CWT, with the money raised help patients, many of whom have learning disabilities, chronic conditions or cancer, to access the trust’s therapeutic services.
Andy Race Fish Merchants:
Based in the port of Mallaig in the Highlands, Andy Race Fish Merchants Ltd. is renowned for producing the very best Scottish peat smoked salmon, Mallaig kippers and a variety of high quality smoked fish and shellfish. All fish is available by mail order, well packed to keep it fresh.
Alex Spink and Sons
Alex Spink and Sons has been specialists in making Arbroath Smokies since 1977. These, along with hot smoked salmon, smoked mackerel and trout can be purchased from their online store and are delivered to your home.
Pro Fish Aviemore
Choose from live lobster, hot smoked salmon, haddock fillets, fresh Scottish salmon, cod and many others at Pro Fish’s online store. A family run shop based in Aviemore, Pro Fish Aviemore aims is to provide the freshest local produce including fish, shellfish and crustacean. They deliver in their local area.
C. Sinclair Fresh Fish Merchants
Based in Burntisland, Fife, they work closely with the seasons, providing the best quality produce at the right time of year and are always aware of sustainable options to ensure the survival of fishing stocks. C.Sinclair Fresh Fish Merchants deliver to the local area around Fife including Aberdour, Kinghorn, Kirkcaldy, Glenrothes, Dunfermline and Auchtermuchty.
Aurora Fishing Company:
Using the delivery service Zippy D, this small family business sell fresh lobster and crab straight to your door. Produce from Aurora Fishing Company comes fresh from the boat and also includes velvet crab. They deliver to Dundee, Broughty Ferry, Tayport, Monifieth, Carnoustie and Arbroath.