Gourmet Hampshire trout outfit ChalkStream changed business model overnight.
If there is one phrase that has been overused since the virus hit the world, it’s “business as usual”. While it is understandable for companies to want to show strength at a time of real crisis, the shutdown of the global economy clearly demonstrated that nothing will be the same for the foreseeable future.
In this sense, it was refreshing to listen to ChalkStream co-founder Arthur Voelcker how his company rapidly turned into a home delivery service overnight.
Seven tonnes of trout are produced a week from farms built on the sites of old water mills raised from chalk stream water from The Test and Itchen in Hampshire, Southern England. The rainbow trout has won praises from household name chefs such as Yottam Ottolenghi and Mark Hix.
The fish are grown in custom-designed hard-sided and gravel bottomed tanks and raceways. This produces large trout, up to 2.5 to 3 kilos, which can be portioned and steaked.
In normal times, ChalkStream supplied its trout to places such the Ritz, Jamie’s Italian and Somerset House’s Spring Restaurant. It did not do any home deliveries.
Voelcker said that before it was doing “really well across the board and we were exporting to America.”
Though when the crisis hit and nearly every single restaurant closed, he said he was in “complete shock, almost paralysis at the beginning.” “This is crazy,” he said. “90 per cent of our business was gone in two days.”
Thinking fast on their feet, Voelcker explained that co-founder Hugo Hardman came up with the idea of a fish box idea to launch within the UK, overnight. “There was the Monday just before all the restaurants shut. We came back everything had just disappeared, by Wednesday we had our box system going.”
He said that the team went straight out leafleting getting new customers. “The critical thing for us is to keep the fish flow going, so we can keep the farms in business. Without the farms, that’s it gone”.
The company uses a “whole fleet of friends and family” to help deliver as well as its own vans and a courier system. “We deliver ourselves within Hampshire, so doing all our home deliveries”.
Consumers are now getting restaurant-quality food arguably on a scale like never before. What do you say to that? “For us, it’s great, it gets our name out there direct to consumer, at a time when everyone is looking”.
Voelcker said that there was currently no dialogue with anyone in the restaurant industry. “The conversations we will be having is with those who do food boxes,” he said.
For example, ChalkStream is now sending trout to Birmingham-based Michelin star winning Brad Carter Carters of Moseley as well as famed chef Oliver Gladwin from Gladwin Brothers. Both are distributing bespoke hampers.
“It’s unbelievable tough still to completely adapt and change our business around and service to homes,” he said.
Is this model sustainable? “Its really early days but it’s getting some fish flow through the farms which is good. We are taking it day by day,” said Voelcker. “We are not freezing at all as we don’t think it has a market and also it doesn’t help us at the moment”.
Voelcker was optimistic despite the situation being as far from business as usual as you can get. “Our whole thing is that we’ve got fresh fish here and if there’s anybody in the UK who is looking for healthy sustainable fish, we’ve got it, it’s here. And when the supermarkets seem to be short of things, it’s madness as we have a high-quality protein goldmine here”.