Scottish smoked salmon company bounces back with e-commerce offering

With much of the United Kingdom’s foodservice sector closed once again thanks to new lockdown restrictions, Scottish smoked salmon producer Campbells & Co. has diversified its business to include new e-commerce offerings for doorstep delivery to end-consumers.

Despite the unprecedented challenges facing the company and the larger seafood industry, Campbells Director Ross Hastings told SeafoodSource the company has high hopes for the coming holiday season.

Much has changed in the past year for Campbells. Embracing modern values and techniques, the business had ploughed a strong furrow in high-end hospitality ahead of the pandemic’s arrival. In addition to booming domestic sales to hotels and restaurants, it had also started sending Loch Duart products to chefs in Italy, and was also working with famed chef Michel Roux Jr. on products for the Cheltenham horse-racing festival, which turned out to be one of the country’s last big public events before the first U.K. lockdown.

“We were really starting to fly, especially in the London scene – supplying many of the capital’s hotels and restaurants. We had a record-breaking December, which carried through into the start of this year, along with the likes of Cheltenham. But then, because of COVID, it all fell off a cliff,” Hastings said. “As a business, we went from having a nice spread across a growing client portfolio, and running at 450 percent growth between 1 January to 10 March, to the temporary closure of our smokehouse in April. At the start of the year, I wouldn’t have considered that possible, but we had no other viable option.”

Opportunities to get back into production were few and far between, and the company’s ethos to supply quality over quantity and thereby steer clear of putting large volumes into the mass retail market meant that it didn’t join the “pandemonium” that ensued when many other producers rushed to supply the grocery sector, Hastings said.

The smokehouse reopened in August, and despite a scaled-back offering due to higher demand for more traditional-style smoked salmon, Campbells saw trade double each month for the next two months. This was helped by the U.K. government’s “Eat Out to Help Out” restaurant scheme.

“While the large volumes weren’t there – we came back with orders for 400 kilograms per week, compared with last December’s peak of four metric tons (MT) per week, which was a humungous difference – it was still exciting to be back,” Hastings said. “We got quite a lot of interest and actually secured some brand-new customers, with products going to new clients in Cornwall and the Highlands.”

But recognizing “a very different landscape,” Hastings said Campbells set its sights on the Christmas and New Year trade, with the decision made before the latest lockdown to use e-commerce to supply consumers directly.

In addition to an initial online offering comprising whole-side D-sliced, whole side long-sliced, and a 250-gram D-sliced pack – which has been available for delivery since the start of November – the company is now taking pre-orders on new C&Co Selection Boxes for delivery the week before Christmas to cover the holiday period. The latter contains 250-gram smoked salmon pairings with Balvenie Whisky, Glenfiddich Whisky, and Hendricks Gin, as well as beetroot gravadlax, dill gravadlax, and double smoked.

In particular, Hastings believes the new 250-gram “home format” offers a lot of potential for the eat-at-home sector.

“Usually when you go to buy a premium smoked salmon, you have to buy a whole side, while the norm in retail is for 100-gram packs. We think there’s a wee bit of white space with 250-gram packs. It’s the perfect size for a household – feeding four to six people as a starter or for two people as a main meal,” he said. “I also don’t think this strategy goes against our core values. We’re still not selling smoked salmon in small 100-gram packs to all the multiple retailers. So, when things do go back, I believe we will still be an option for the five-star hotels and restaurants,” Hastings said.

But despite its market research, and having only launched on 2 November, Campbells is on a steep learning curve, he conceded.

“Previously, I would have created large volumes to sell through trade, but when you are a brand-new entry into retail, it is difficult to gauge the demand. And things at the moment are changing so quickly, so we must stay agile. The whole model is changing, but one nice thing to come from the COVID situation is that people are increasingly realizing that it’s not difficult to get premium, luxury products to eat in their own homes,” he said. “Even when we are on the other side of all this, I believe that the traffic that have got used to and have enjoyed the e-commerce experience will continue shopping online. Consumers are adapting and we have to adapt, too. I am excited by it all. So, while we are not where I want to be just yet – with our whole range available all of the time – there’s lots of scope to expand.”

Photo courtesy of Campbells and Co.


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