“Quality, sustainability and livelihood” form the three key pillars of London Smoke & Cure’s business model. Founded in 2015 by Ross Mitchell, in a short time, the company has grown from a hobby into a business that has won awards by pouring its heart and soul into its produce.
“That’s at least the mantra in my head, which guides what we do, and they are good rules to live by,” Mitchell said.
“The business is always faced with decisions that can save you money. We could take Norwegian salmon, for example, and it would be cheaper.” However, Mitchell wants to avoid that, focusing on the longer term aim of building up value in the business by remaining true to its principles.
Weathering the storm
The salmon sector, particularly in the UK, has been hammered by a multitude of factors in recent times, with Brexit, the cost of living crisis and soaring salmon prices hitting people throughout the industry.
While suffering from the indirect Brexit-related impacts, such as the rising cost of salmon feed pushing up the salmon price, that has been “less relevant” for London Smoke & Cure, as they have chosen, to date, to “not focus on anything outside of the UK”. While currently not a complication they are involved with, Mitchell didn’t rule out exploring it in future.
On the rising cost of salmon, Mitchell revealed they were absorbing the “significant” costs, having experienced a 40 percent rise in the cost of salmon in recent months. That’s a big hit, particularly where the vast majority of our volume is going to trade where the margins are pretty thin,” Mitchell accepted.
That trouble extends to other price increases, such as packaging, energy costs and staff wages, which he admitted makes it a “pretty hard time.”
Customer relations are key
Although London Smoke & Cure occupies a fair amount of retail space, the “core focus is independent delis,” with that forming about 80% of its business in terms of volume.
In absorbing the rising cost of salmon, London Smoke & Cure hopes it will be able to pick up business and strengthen relations with its customers by remaining loyal to them throughout the tough times.
“My own view is that a blanket increase in prices is not the right way to go about…If we’re going to survive as a business over the next 2, 3, 5, 10 years, we’re gonna need to be absolutely lean and really focused,” he explained.
“We now have to look at the challenges in the economy, as well as the price rises as an opportunity really to make us better…This is the opportunity where we may well be able to capture some business by just hanging on a little bit because suddenly our product, which is very good is suddenly now on a similar price to the others,” Mitchell stated.
Achieving that award-winning edge
The smokehouse secures its salmon from a supplier in London who delivers “exception quality Scottish fish” before they under cure and under smoke it to allow the quality of the original salmon to shine through.
“The sort of stuff which you can get in supermarkets is pretty old. It’s not the best quality stuff and you can oversalt stuff and hide the fact that it’s a bit naff and we do the opposite…and try to highlight the fact that it’s the best around by not making it too salty.”
“It’s what I would call an under cure and we dry it for just half a day. And then we under smoke it, so it’s nice and light and buttery. It’s sort of quite an elegant product. It’s certainly not very smokey and it’s not very salty…And then we will slice it thick in that sort of Scandinavian style” Mitchell said outlining the company’s process, claiming those three steps “separate us out.”
Not just a salmon smokehouse
While salmon forms a large proportion of the smokehouse’s business, London Smoke & Cure has expanded beyond that for a “couple of reasons.” The seasonality of smoked salmon is one of the main motivations for selling other producer, as well as providing “a sort of security,” especially in the current circumstances.
“Certainly, the large volume of what we do is smoked salmon.” The company’s most popular product is a 100 gram pre-packed, retail ready, vacuum bagged, cardboard sleeve, labelled product, which is bought by delis and sold directly onto customers.
“We use to do more custom to restaurants and we are still open to that but I think we are more particular now about the restaurants we choose,” Mitchell revealed, citing poor experiences with previous customers who let them down over payments.
“I guess we are just a little bit more choosy about who we will sell to because we put our heart and soul into this product and it’s a product of really superior quality and it’s not right for all venues,” Mitchell said proudly highlighting one of the company’s key pillars – the produce’s quality.
Alongside delis, the smokehouse sells its produce through retailers, sales they make themselves, people visiting the shop unit, via farmers markets and through online sales.