‘Market to plate in 5 hours’

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With the demise of the specialist high street fishmonger in many of the UK’s towns, customers have become increasingly dependent on the fish counter of the major supermarkets.

However, there is a welcome alternative for customers in many parts of the country: the ‘fish van’, or mobile fishmonger.

Some of these are run by big outfits – the Seafish Industry Authority does not have figures for the total number of mobile fishmongers in the UK, but told SalmonBusiness that they know of large distribution companies e.g. Regal Seafoods, which operates 70 vans from Grimsby. Around a hundred vans in total operate from Humberside.

But many are also micro-businesses, of the ‘one man – one van’ type.

One such is operated by Charlie Coid, who serves the small town of Gatehouse of Fleet, in SW Scotland, and its hinterland – an area which is sparsely populated, but very busy in the tourist season with its many caravan parks and holiday chalets. His van carries a wide range of seafood, plus fresh vegetables.

“Salmon is my main seller,” Charlie told SalmonBusiness. “I sell a lot of it, especially in the summer, with all the caravan sites, because people can serve it hot or cold, and it doubles up as something to have with salad. Then, of course, it’s a main ingredient for a fish pie. So it’s very versatile.”

  • Fish vans are big business now – why do you think they’re so popular?

“The vans are selling fish fresh from the market to your door to your plate. The supermarkets are buying in bulk and in many cases it could have been frozen then defrosted. And the customer often doesn’t really know how long it’s been sitting on the counter, whereas the van’s coming to your door every week at a set time. You also get that personal touch and rapport with the fish-seller himself. That’s important.”

Salmon – the most popular choice
  • How many days do you go up to the market in Glasgow?

“Twice a week. Tuesday and Thursday are the main business days at the market when the fresh produce comes in; I collect it from the market at 3 00 am and I’m out trading by 8 00 am, so five hours from the market to the customer’s door. You run your stock right down, then stock up again in the middle of the week. You’re constantly turning over your produce, and there’s nothing lying. That’s how you’re maintaining your freshness.”

  • How many vans are stocking up in Glasgow?

“ I’m not certain,  but there’ll probably be over a hundred.”

Charles, his uncle (who has three vans), and another couple of vans cover the whole of Dumfries and Galloway and the Stewartry – just six vans to cover a very large geographical area.

“And of course, as you get further north and inland, the more sporadic your customers are. It’s a lot of driving!”

His two cousins in Inveraray both operate fish vans, and they cover the whole of Argyll and Bute – another very large and sparsely-populated part of Scotland.