By Karen Peattie

A VETERAN Edinburgh fishmonger has seen a sharp increase in online sales of fresh fish and seafood in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

George Baxter, who runs the George Hughes and Son fishmonger in Morningside and The Aberdeen Fish Shop in Kilsyth, relaunched his long-established online offer in January before the Covid-19 outbreak.

Rebranded as Fresh Fish Daily, the online operation delivers fresh fish and seafood across the UK mainland, with the London area currently accounting for about 50 per cent of sales. “We started thinking just over a year ago that we needed to refresh our online business,” said managing director Mr Baxter, who runs the family business with his son, Gareth.

“We could see that there was significant opportunity in online sales with retail trends showing more people moving to internet shopping, but our existing website wasn’t working the way it should.”

The initial audience for the new-look operation was the top 100 customers from the existing website in the period January-December 2019, targeted via email with a discount on their first order between 20-30%.

Whole fish and fish fillets are vacuum-packed individually, ready for cooking or freezing. Assembled at the firm’s Kilsyth premised by a team led by shop manager Craig McAteer, orders are then packed inside polystyrene boxes with frozen chill packs filled with a non-toxic gel.

All orders are normally delivered within 24 hours of leaving the premises using APC Direct, a network of independent delivery specialists, although high demand during the Covid-19 crisis means that customers are asked to add at least two days to the date of delivery on their order confirmation.

Mr Baxter said: “When we launched Fresh Fish Daily in the middle of January sales trickled away for a couple of weeks then really picked up in February and early March as we promoted it via our social media channels.

“It took off big time after people started to go out less and when people were told to stay at home demand increased further.”

Gross sales this year so far are £34,031 – that’s 553 orders with an average order value £61.54. During March, gross sales amounted to £21,556 from 347 orders with gross sales to April 6 since the UK lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnston on March 23 reaching £25,747.

Previously, the online operation’s highest gross revenue since launching in November 2008 was £14,294, recorded in 2019.

“The main challenge has been that some fish is in short supply due to people self-isolating or not being able to work because of coronavirus – they can’t get product to us,” said Mr Baxter, whose business also operates a haddock filleting factory in West Lothian.

“Our wholesale business in Bathgate, which supplies fish and chip shops and wholesalers who deliver to hotels and restaurants, has obviously suffered and our two retail shops have had to close but staff are now working to provide the online service.

“We will be doing our utmost to get our shops back open as soon as we get the green light and until then our priority first and foremost is the safety and wellbeing of our staff and customers.”

Mr Baxter, who started his career in the fish industry in the late-1970s working on boats in the North Sea, said he had been surprised at the online demand in the London area and also Cornwall.

“It’s been quite interesting,” he said. “Scottish fish and seafood is known for its quality so our location is in our favour and while Cornwall has a reputation for its crab and other shellfish, it’s not so easy to source haddock, tuna and seabass there so that creates demand.”