Hybrid virtual, in-store fishmonger concept Rockfish becomes latest offering at modernized UK motorway service area

Rockfish's physical location at the Westmorland Gloucester motorway service area
Rockfish's physical location at the Westmorland Gloucester motorway service area | Photo courtesy of Rockfish
6 Min

Motorway service areas across the U.K. typically have a few fast-food outlets, a coffee shop, and maybe some grocery offerings, among other small amenities.

Three service stations in Gloucester, Tebay, and Cairn Lodge, owned by Westmorland Family – a family business started by the family of the same name – and which span the country’s motorway network, have instead become culinary destinations, with kitchens producing food from scratch using local ingredients; butchery and deli counters; and bread, cheese, gelato, and dried goods compiled and sold by artisan producers.

For restaurateur Mitch Tonks, the founder and CEO of seafood company Rockfish and a U.K. ambassador for the Marine Stewardship Council, a recent partnership with Westmorland Family’s Gloucester Services location has marked an important step on his mission to change the way people in the U.K. buy seafood.

“I approached Westmorland about a year ago with the idea of adding a virtual fishmonger counter to their [motorway services]. I pitched; we talked; they visited our restaurant, fishmonger concept, and processing facility; and we worked on the idea,” Tonks told Seafood Source.

Before approaching Westmorland Family, Tonks had already set up a successful digital seafood market during the Covid-19 pandemic, selling fresh and frozen fish caught quayside off the southwest England town of Brixham. That early success with Rockfish helped Tonks notice there was an opportunity to take the concept to another level.

The idea that has come to fruition is what Tonks claims to be the world’s first virtual fishmonger and seafood counter.

Within the motorway stop, Rockfish sells frozen fish but also allows customers to access a digital fish counter linked to the Rockfish online seafood market. Shoppers can scroll through an interactive screen highlighting what is available for direct delivery, with new species added throughout the day as they become available.

The species offered through the digital platform depend on each day’s landings but often include hake, monkfish, sole, turbot, gurnard, red mullet, cod, haddock, and pollock, alongside scallops, crabs, and lobster.

Information about which boat has landed each species is available, and knowledgeable staff are also on hand to provide guidance and help customers make the right choice before an order ends up on their doorstep.

In-store goods include Rockfish-tinned calamari, mussels, tuna, and sardines, as well as a range of smoked fish, fresh herbs, house-made sauces, relishes, seafood butters, cookbooks, pasta, and wines.

“The Rockfish shop has everything you need to cook a delicious seafood meal, and that’s not something people will expect on the motorway,” Tonks said.

The service offers next-day delivery, with fish arriving in a fully recyclable box that contains a return label; once sent back to Rockfish, each box becomes recycled into garden furniture.

“Historically, there’s a lot of waste in the industry and challenges around fresh delivery. Our zero-waste supply chain and digital market ensures that the very best of the day’s catch can be delivered to your doorstep wherever you are cooking,” Tonks said.

Besides sustainability, Tonks has also considered other popular consumer trends with his innovative concept.

Many consumers don’t like the skin, bones, and the smell of fish and are hesitant to cook it, preferring, instead, convenient and ready-to-eat products. Rockfish addresses these concerns by selling individually portioned and packaged fish that has been skinned and deboned. Each pack bears a QR code linked to instructions and videos on how to cook it. Tonks’s attention to detail is so minute that he has even ensured his packaging does not give off a fishy smell; the packing process takes place away from the processing area.

Westmorland Family Chair Sarah Dunning said her company wanted to find a more sustainable way of retailing fish that suited a motorway service station with a focus on proper food. A previous attempt to include a fresh fish counter had failed due to a high level of waste.

“We have such a wealth of British seafood to enjoy, and we want people to enjoy it at the peak of quality and freshness. The Rockfish partnership offers the opportunity and inspiration to order and enjoy fresh seafood delivered to their end destination,” Dunning said.

Tonks has been happy with the result – both visually and how well customers have embraced the new concept.

“We have only been open a short while, but the shop is going really well; the in-store frozen fish is proving to be really popular. I am hoping that we can expand the idea because I really think that selling frozen fish and fish online is the way forward,” he said.

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