“Every time there is a recession, we tend to do a bit better”

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The oldest surviving smokehouse in the East End of London, Forman & Son has been in business for more than 100 years. SalmonBusiness catches up with the company’s outspoken CEO, Lance Forman, to get the latest on covid, Brexit and everything in between.  

Whisper it, but life is slowly returning to normal in London. The pubs are doing a roaring trade, Chelsea fans stagger in groups down the Fulham Road. While MPs sit, packed like sardines, on the green benches of the Houses of Parliament, roaring like school children, and jabbing their fingers at each other across the aisle. You could be forgiven for thinking the crisis has passed.

Lance Forman is no stranger to politics. The head of London’s oldest salmon smokehouse is a former Brexit Party and Conservative MEP.

Unsurprisingly, he remains breezily optimistic about the consequences of Britain’s decision to sever itself from the European Union. As he explained to SalmonBusiness, “If you want to get your product out there, you can do it. It takes a little bit more administration first time around, but it’s not rocket science. You’ve just got to fill in the form. The first time you do it’s a bit complicated. The second time it’s a little bit less complicated. The third time it’s just part of what you do.”

Forman continued, “People who aren’t in business keep going on about the costs. Well, you know what? It’s such a small cost in relation to everything else. And actually, you don’t mind paying that fee because you’re only paying the fee because you’ve got the business. It’s not like a speculative fee where, I’ve got to throw 100 quid and something, I might not get the business at the end. You’ve got the business, and you can incorporate that 100 quid into your price for the customers paying for anyway, it’s not that big a deal.”

Covid impact
Even without Brexit, it’s been quite a year. And despite the signs of life emerging in the UK capital, Forman strikes a cautious note. “London is coming back, but very, very slowly. Our customer base tends to be the high end restaurants, hotels, high end contract caterer, the big banks, law firms and so on – as opposed to school dinners.”

“The two main issues for London are that business people aren’t going into town. There’s no foreign tourism, there’s no foreign business travel. There are no conferences. There are fewer people around. There’s some restaurants (struggling with staffing, apparently). So they’re not open full time. I don’t know how true that is or not, but I don’t think they’re quite as busy as they might want to be.”

Despite a reputation for shooting from the hip, Forman can be surprisingly modest: “As you know, we’ve been going for over 100 years,” he said. Indeed, by some accounts Forman & Son invented smoked salmon as we know it when his grandfather, Harry (Aaron) Forman, the founder of the firm, arrived in London from Russia in 1905.

A little bit of luxury
Trading across four generations lends the firm an unusually long term perspective. As Forman said, “We’ve noticed every time there’s been a recession, we tend to do a bit better. Because what you tend to find is in recessions, people might cut back on their big spends, they cut back on their holidays, they cut back on their big furniture purchases, all that sort of stuff. But everybody needs a little bit of luxury in their lives.”

“Mail order has been our saviour over the last year and a half. People still have to eat, they don’t have to eat in a restaurant, but they do have to eat. If they want decent food, they’ll eat at home. The feeling is that a little pack of smoked salmon is not going to hurt the budget too much. It gives people that sense of a little bit of luxury. People felt they can’t go out to a restaurant, they need to treat themselves. ‘You know what, I’ll have smoked salmon rather than peanut butter’.”

“It’s a year when people are much more concerned about their health as well. And we’ve been telling our customers, that 85 grammes of smoked salmon actually gives you 97 per cent of your daily requirements of vitamin D. Very good for your immune system. It’s a healthy food, and it’s delicious food – and a food that gives you a little sense of luxury. I think people have needed that,” concludes Forman.