JCS Fish MD, Andrew Coulbeck: “We were doing flavoured fillets 15 years ago before anyone else, now they’re everywhere”

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The Grimsby born-and-bred, family-owned seafood company, JCS Fish, has been built on generations of experience. Andrew Coulbeck, founder and MD, talked to SalmonBusiness about Brexit, innovation and why salmon producers may need to up their environmental game.

Andrew is one half of husband and wife/managing director team with Louise Coulbeck. Both have seafood in their blood (Louise’s grandparents worked on the docks) and have been running the company since 2000 in Grimsby, Britain’s own epicentre of seafood.

JCS Fish Managing Directors and husband and wife team, Andrew and Louise Coulbeck.

Its base on Murray Street turns over around £6M a year and employ 40 people.

Over the years, Andrew Coulbeck has become one of Grimsby’s most well-known experts in salmon. He spotted the potential of making the fish more accessible by moving into farmed fish, becoming one of the first seafood companies to do so.

A lot of businesses have been encouraging more people to eat more salmon, but JCS’ popular BigFish Brand of frozen and fresh salmon seems to be paying off. The fish arrives fresh at their factory on Grimsby docks and is delivered daily from a range of suppliers in Scotland and Norway. The brand has a a wide range of products, from more traditional smoked salmon and breaded goujons, to more contemporary flavours such as Thai or BBQ sauce. Furthermore, the range has been boosted with a number of award wins and is sold nationally by Ocado and Costco as well as by a broad cross section of small to medium-sized independent retailers.

SalmonBusiness wondered why his particular approach to salmon was different to others?

“I’m not sure how different my approach is but the one thing that I do always focus on is innovation – we’re always looking at new ideas to tempt people to eat salmon. So many times, people say to me “I don’t like salmon” – then I find a way to serve it to them that changes their mind! It’s such a versatile species – our approach all along has been to try and get ahead of the game with new ideas that make salmon fit different tastes, occasions etc. For instance, we were doing flavoured fillets 15 years ago before anyone else, now they’re everywhere.”

Andrew Coulbeck in 1990.

In his early thirties, Andrew started working for Jack Carlisle Smith of Jack Smith Ltd, a subsidiary of his father’s company, Richard Coulbeck Ltd. Jack passed on his wealth of knowledge of fishing, which in turn inspired the young founder to name the company after the initials of his old boss, JCS.

A lot has changed since Jack’s days and with Brexit looming on the horizon, SalmonBusiness wondered if Mr Coulbeck anticipated any trends or challenges ahead for the industry?

“With regard to Brexit, I don’t see any particular immediate problems for our business, particularly since we don’t have a significant export business to mainland Europe at the moment and we source most of our fish either from Scotland or Scandinavia, which is outside the EU.”

Andrew and JCS’ aim with the BigFish Brand was to introduce a fish finger, chicken goujon and scampi loving audience to a salmon alternative.

“A bigger worry for me are the many challenges that have surfaced in the salmon industry over the past few years. Disease is a real problem, the industry has got to get on top of the sea lice issue in particular. Sea lice not only affect quality and supply but are very bad for Atlantic salmon’s PR – both through the negative environmental impacts and in terms of consumer impressions of the salmon industry.”

“This is just one of a number of challenges that are impacting supply volumes – just at the point when salmon is more popular than ever we are often finding there isn’t enough fish to go round,” he added.

The company is growing. “We conservatively are expecting sales growth of 10-15% over the next 12 months,” says Andrew Coulbeck but like so many companies, does he have eye on expanding even further into the international market?

“We don’t have any immediate projects in Asia although we have had a few enquiries and I don’t doubt that sooner or later we will be exporting to China. We do however have a fledgling business in the Middle East and are already sending BigFish Brand flavoured fillets to a retailer in Dubai.”