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Sussex SME The Pished Fish, hit hard by Covid, doubles turnover

By Jo Whittle
17 August 2021
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The Pished Fish is a young, ambitious family-owned food business born in the farmers' and street food markets of London and Sussex. Hit hard by Covid, this Sussex SME has reinvented its operations to double its turnover, by betting on deliveries direct to consumers and reviving the fortunes of smoked salmon.

Started in 2016 by James Eagle, The Pished Fish grew from a garden shed in Camberwell, south east London, to a a smokehouse built out of two shipping containers in a field in East Sussex, to a bigger dedicated facility in Polegate near Brighton in November 2019. From stalls at various markets from Chelsea and Primrose Hill to The Oval and Herne Hill, it went on to supply Selfridges and Fortnum and Mason as well as Ocado, Waitrose and a whole host of other farm shops, delis and fine food stores.

Their products showcase Scottish salmon, with audacious flavours and alcohol-infused varieties, pairing sashimi-cut fish with an array of high-quality spirits, herbs and botanicals, before smoking them over aromatic woods. The Pished Fish offerings range from The Augustus Gloop (raspberry vodka and blueberries) and Erik the Red (Aquavit, juniper, star anise & beetroot) to Sozzled Santa (brandy, cinnamon, nutmeg and clementine zest) or Uncle Sam (smoked & lightly roasted salmon with bourbon & honey).        

As the business grew, both James and Hermione quit their previous jobs, in sales for pharma and medical devices and independent property development, and university course accreditation for the engineering industry respectively, and devoted their full time to the family business.

What’s the best and worst thing about running a small family business together?, we asked them.

"Best thing is the opportunity to work towards a shared goal. Worst thing is finding the time to switch off."

James & Hermione Eagle

At the end of 2019, one of The Pished Fish' large customers took up all the production, which meant James and Hermione had to turn away all the online business and some of the loyal stockists. This "was devastating", recalls James. "Despite having a fantastic team of five, it was incredibly stressful producing so much, and in part led to me ending up in a hospital bed for 12 nights over Christmas with a stomach ulcer! A low point. Something had to change."

In early 2020, when Covid hit, the two decided to focus all their energy online and grow the business that way, having hundreds of individual customers each week, rather than just a few big ones.

"We applied for a bounce back loan, which gave us room to breathe last year when we lost our two biggest customers. It was swift and efficient. It enabled us to improve the website, re-train for e-commerce and look to make some improvements to our production facility", says James.

The Pished Fish’ annual turnover went from £78,682 in 2018/2019, to £250,000 last year, and the business has already hit £255,000 in the first half of 2021.

The business now employs five people full time, three part time, and plans recruit three more full-time by Christmas.

Having outgrown their romantic beginnings, James and Hermione plan to stay connected to their core customers. "We actively export to Hong Kong and a little Scandinavia, but our short to medium term priority is the UK. Such is the growth we're experiencing that a return to farmer's markets isn't feasible, although it's important that we retain links with our die-hard (customers), so we intend to champion key seasonal events", says James.

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