Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Morrisons: “We are selling 60% more British fish now than we do normally”

Fathom podcast, in conversation with Morrisons supermarket, finds glimmers of hope for seafood sales under trying COVID conditions.

In a special, feature episode - commissioned following direct input from fishermen on what they want to hear on the UK’s only commercial fishing podcast - the Fathom team welcomed Sophie Throup of Morrisons, and Mark Greet and Edward Polley of Falfish seafood processors for a wide-ranging conversation about the UK’s taste for British fish during lockdown.

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 Fathom 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 - 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. 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!”

Listen to the episode in full here: https://cfpo.org.uk/the-fathom-podcast/