Andrew Coulbeck – along with his wife Louise, are some of Grimsby’s most well-known experts in salmon.
At the core of the processor – home to the JCS’s BigFish brand – was a mission to get more salmon onto the UK’s dinner plates.
“My early experience was in dogfish and wild salmon. When I started at the age of 16, all we did was wild salmon – it was before farmed salmon was widely available. But wild was very seasonal – it ran only from February to September – so we had to freeze it all down in the summer months and sell what we had frozen in the winter months,” explained Coulbeck on what what made him keen to make farmed salmon more accessible to a wider consumer audience.
“Then farmed fish started and producers started filleting it, something which had never been the case with wild fish, which was always sold as a whole piece or smoked. This is why farmed rapidly became so popular, not only was it available all year round but the industry started doing things with it that made it more accessible for consumers.”
“Now, we only produce salmon and some trout. Because we don’t do other fish we have worked hard to push its benefits and make it more accessible to more people.”
It has been said that marketing seafood is difficult but BigFish is recognisable. What went into developing the brand?
“We first produced a salmon portion with a flavour 20 years ago. It was originally an idea for the foodservice sector for home delivery customers. But, unlike some other manufacturers who would produce a salmon portion with a flavour in a packet, we actually put the flavour on the salmon beforehand.
“So that way we could sell a plain salmon fillet or one with a marinade flavour. Then we started to experiment with lots of different flavours, each of which had their own selling points. That gave us a lot of impetus to sell more salmon fillets to more people,” he said.
JCS won a national distribution in Ocado for its BigFish Salmon Bites and Goujons. But looking ahead, SalmonBusiness reported that Amazon’s Whole Foods predicted that brands will be increasingly rethinking food for kids like “non-breaded salmon fish sticks”.
Is a segment you are invested in?
“We do sell and market salmon fillets as a good option for healthy children’s meals but so far we haven’t looked at any specifically children’s products. There are all sorts of possibilities for what we might do, and we’ve had some pretty crazy ideas but none so far that we’ve brought to launch. There are lots of possibilities though so watch this space!”
How do you balance having a family-run business?
“I work with my wife Louise and our son Jack and his fiancé Rosie, they are making a big contribution to the business and will certainly be the ones to drive it forward. But they are all family (our workforce), well they all seem that way to me. We have had some challenging times but our family business ethic helps us get through the tough times together.
“If they all listened to me all the time and didn’t have their own views they’d never learn anything. I always encourage people – if they have an idea to just get on with it. And if it doesn’t work, at least they can learn something from the experience,” he laughed.
Coulbeck has been in the business 44 years having just passed his 60th birthday. What’s a good piece of advice that you would given yourself 40 years ago starting out?
“I would try and delegate better and get other people to do my job. That would give me more opportunity to stand back and watch and learn more, which might have speeded up our learning curve. The world is your oyster, or should I say rather, the world is your salmon.”