The Pished Fish is a story that begins with a young, fun-loving start-up enjoying unprecedented overnight success before unwittingly wandering into deep, unchartered waters where things quickly spiralled out of control. It would have been easy enough at this point to throw in the towel but James is a stubborn ‘sole’ who refused to let go of his vision of salmon’s untapped potential. This is why today we see on the eve of the festive holidays a re-energized, Sussex-based business at the very peak of its powers!
For anyone not in-the-know, The Pished Fish’s unambiguous vision is to showcase salmon’s more audacious, booze-infused ambitions by moving away from salmon’s safe, mild-mannered reputation. Here is a business tapping into this noble fish’s hitherto unknown rock & roll persona, pairing finest Scottish salmon with a mind-blowing array of high-quality spirits and botanicals, before smoking them in small batches over an array of British-grown, aromatic woods.
The initial vision was inspired by James Eagle’s almost obsessive appreciation of Scandinavian gravlax. In a previous life James had travelled the length and breadth of Scandinavia selling medical kit. Such fur-flung adventures involved a lot of hotel stopovers and an inordinate amount of smoked salmon and gravlax for breakfast. Intoxicated by the array of fantastical flavours that curing fish could impart, James, an enthusiastic home cook turned his food obsession into a hobby, which he shamelessly hoisted upon friends and family. Curiously the earthy undertones of gravlax didn’t go down as well with his friends as he’d imagined, unlike his first forays into smoking salmon which secured rave reviews!
Fast forward a year and James was merrily trapsing over to Billingsgate on a daily basis to purchase ever greater quantities of salmon and trout to support his flourishing hobby, now taking place at his bottom-of-the-garden shed.
By this point in time local farmer’s market were going mad for James’ boozed infused wizardry, growth that literally exploded when Selfridges and Fortnum’s rang up to place their initial orders.
The secret to The Pished Fish fantastic flavours
The secret behind The Pished Fish is James’ unshaking commitment to stunning yet improbable flavour marriages, never skimping on ingredients and embracing sashimi style cuts (thicker), which ensures that more flavours are retained throughout the smoking process.
By now the team was growing, the smokery had undergone numerous transformations & iterations to become a significantly larger and more efficient production unit that resided proudly in nearby farmland belonging to James’ parents.’ The move was certainly timely because this was the moment Ocado and Waitrose knocked on the door.
Challenges of rapid growth
Initially this exponential growth was embraced with open arms. From a sleeping start The Pished Fish was growing at a healthy lick, as was the bottom line. And yet, as with many things in life, its hidden ‘little things’ brewing under the surface that were unwisely ignored. It was only a few months down the line when James & Hermoine (by now James’ wife had joined The Pished Fish venture) both realised that they’d unwittingly even smaller cogs beholden to ambitious yet set-in-their-ways retailers. Constant repeat orders of the same products meant there was little or no time to initiate new product or build all-important databases of smoked salmon loyalists.
Things came to a head over Lockdown when The Pished Fish’s two biggest cheerleaders, like so many other leading retailers at the time started stripping their food aisles back-to-basics. Over a precarious six-week window, this much-loved custodian of effortlessly stylish, boozy fish lost 97% of its business, courtesy of a heady storm of inexplicable bad luck and poor timing.
A perfect pivot
James and Hermoine had to think fast and reassess not only wanted the business needed but what made them happiest. The answer was simple enough, returning to basics and reinventing itself as a D2C online food hero. Innovation was stepped up; pates, fish pies, Gilltong (think salmony biltong) Winter platters and bagel bundles created; with the last offering especially popular among those stuck-at-home commuters looking to bring a little more excitement to their lunchtimes.
By now, The Pished Fish’s gallant exploits were starting to be noticed with recognition at both the Rural and Growing Business awards. Best was still to come when at The Great British Food awards esteemed chef, Jack Stein said the following having sampled the Fish Gilltong
‘New ways of preserving and using the whole fish have become increasingly popular over the last few years – this product extends on that and has created a genuinely interesting and different product from salmon. The teriyaki flavouring was very nice, the right blend of cure and sweetness that really did resemble a teriyaki style biltong in flavour and texture. I’ve never eaten salmon and beer together before but this gilltong made that possible! It’s not only innovative but fun, and I really like the packaging and marketing. A really fantastic product!’ Jack Stein
Without rushing to the punchline, The Pished Food Company is in a better place than it has been ever been before, a captivating online shop, regular product innovation, stunning photography are all telling signs of a young business in a great place. This is a truly disruptive food business that is always at its happiest connecting with ‘real people’ and proof that however close you are to the edge, brand redemption (if you truly understand what makes you and your brand tick) could be just around the next corner!
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