In a special feature episode of the Fathom podcast, a representative of the Morrisons supermarket chain confirmed that they are selling 60% more UK fish than before lockdown.
The latest podcast features Morrisons Head of Agriculture, Fisheries & Sustainable Sourcing Sophie Throup, and Mark Greet and Edward Polley of Cornish seafood processor Falfish.
At the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, supermarkets across the country chose to close fresh fish counters – a decision described by Paul Trebilcock of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation (CFPO) as ‘counter-intuitive’ and ‘causing frustration at the quayside’.
‘Everyone started behaving and shopping very differently – stockpiling toilet rolls and pasta,’ Sophie Throup responded when challenged on this decision.
‘As a business we had to concentrate on helping customers move through the stores as quickly and safely as possible – closing counters meant we could focus our efforts on keeping shelves stocked.’
She commented the characteristic back-and-forth of fishmongers counters also presented a risk for retailers.
‘Fish counters are about exchanging knowledge and information – personal contact – this is why they were shut right at the beginning.’
As shopping conditions changed, Morrisons, who source British fish via Falfish in the South-West – have spear-headed the reintroduction of fresh fish sales in supermarkets through developing a British Fish Box, putting a new emphasis on selling UK species.
Asking if this represented a wider move towards ‘British produce for British customers,’ Paul Trebilcock suggested this could represent a ‘new normal’ in the post-COVID consumer landscape.
‘Morrisons haven’t altered the range of seafood we’re selling, but what we have altered is the volume. We are selling 60% more British fish now than we do normally,’ Sophie Throup said, adding that this includes a ‘phenomenal’ 1400% increase in sales of Dover sole, and an 83% increase in sales of monkfish.
‘Under this period of lockdown, while people have been forced to stay at home, it’s also encouraged them to cook at home, and people are starting to eat more seafood at home,’
Edward Polley said, emphasising how the ongoing lockdown conditions have changed how the public approaches seafood.
He said that people are discovering how easy and simple seafood can be.
‘The beauty is there’s something for every budget,’ he said.
While some sectors, the shellfish sector in particular, are still struggling to access much-needed export markets, Fathom hosts Paul Trebilcock and Chris Ranford reflected on how this difficult period could act ‘as a foundation’ for the future of fish sales in the UK, with strong communication between links in the supply chain paying dividends for buyers of all sizes, and for development of the domestic market.
‘Let’s hope the new norm is 60% increase in sales of British fish. Let’s keep going in that direction!’ Paul Trebilcock said.
Listen to the episode in full here