A leading fishing podcast (Fathom) has been told by UK supermarket chain Morrisons that they are now selling 60% more British fish than they were before the lockdown started.
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’. Challenged on this decision by the podcast host, Sophie Throup – Head of Agriculture, Fisheries & Sustainable Sourcing at Morrisons – was candid in her response:
‘Everyone started behaving and shopping very differently – stockpiling toilet rolls and pasta. 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’.
The characteristic back-and-forth of fishmongers counters also presented a risk for retailers, with Throup adding:
‘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 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. Responding, Throup noted that 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’. Throup added this includes a 1400% increase in sales of dover sole, and an 83% increase in sales of monkfish – something she characterised as ‘phenomenal’.
Emphasising how the ongoing lockdown conditions have changed how the public approaches seafood, Edward Polley of Falfish commented:
‘Under this period of lockdown, whilst 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. [People are discovering] how easy and simple seafood can be – the beauty is there’s something for every budget’.
Whilst 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!’