Buyer Focus: Saffron Fish Co.


You don’t get the kind of glowing reviews the Saffron Fish Co. has by accident. Located on George Street in Saffron Walden, the fishmongers and deli is trying to do things a little differently and it’s clearly working. 


A short history of Saffron Fish Co.

Matt Gurnett, along with his wife Annabel, founded Saffron Fish Co. just over two years ago in an effort to make fresh, high quality, sustainably sourced fish available to anyone. For 8 years previously he had worked as Head Chef at The Cricketers in Saffron Walden, owned by Jamie Oliver’s parents, and had enjoyed access to fantastic seafood directly from Billingsgate. 

But obviously not everyone has that access, and so they buy from supermarkets and get low quality farmed salmon or unsustainably caught cod. 

The way Matt saw it, there were two interlinked problems:

  1. People don’t have access to great seafood
  2. People aren’t confident cooking seafood beyond the very basics.

So he had the idea of setting up a fishmongers that gets fish directly from Billingsgate every morning, and helping out customers with recommendations, ideas and recipes. He was right, and it worked. It’s been a huge hit with local people, and has gone from strength to strength. 

Before long, some more space became available and they opened up the second part of his vision: a seafood deli to sell his own fish cakes and fish pies alongside his favourite sauces and condiments. 


What makes Saffron Fish Co. different

The formula’s simple and it works. They buy fresh off small boats at Billingsgate (which means a 3.30am start for Matt) from fishermen that Matt has known for 20 years. The fishermen know him, they tell him what’s good, and that’s what he’ll have on sale that day. That might mean the fishmongers won’t necessarily have the same fish available all the time, but Matt will be able to recommend today’s pollock, flounder, gurnard or line caught mackerel to the customer and give them a recipe to cook it perfectly.

Matt’s relationships with the fishermen mean he gets the seasonal stuff early, and so gets a better product and a better price. He tries to keep these prices the same, even if his buying costs go up, because he wants the fish to be available to everyone, not just those with deep pockets. 

When he has to buy farmed fish (for example salmon) he only ever buys from high quality farms with low stock intensities and good feed. Customers of his fishmongers know they’ll get a great selection of high quality fish, at a fair price, and if they want a recommendation or cooking advice Matt or Annabel are always on hand to give it. If the customer isn’t sure on weights and measures they can just eyeball it and get a portion size that’s right for them (an option particularly popular with the older clientele!)

When it comes to the deli, the quality control is what makes the difference. Everything for sale is either something they have made themselves, or that they personally love. When they source products they go for ones that have a story behind them, that you can’t get elsewhere. 


2021 as a fishmongers and deli

Saffron Fish Co launched just before Britain left the EU and just before COVID, and that’s had its challenges.

Regarding Brexit, the benefits for the fishing industry haven’t been realised just yet. “What needs to happen is the local market needs to adapt,'' says Matt. “We need to start to buy the different fish that were being exported before, and move people away from just buying unsustainable cod or haddock''.

On the COVID front, Matt and Annabel just had to adapt. They were quick to react to what was happening in the first lockdown, halved shop hours and set up a delivery service to keep the business running. Since things have opened up they have stopped delivering, but they have the infrastructure and experience now to fire it up again if needed. 

2021 has also brought opportunities. Flexible working and working from home has meant more people have more time to cook, and are getting more adventurous and ambitious with their home cooking. That means they’re willing to try new things, experiment, and buy fish to cook with that they wouldn’t have considered before. 

People are also looking to eat more healthily and reduce their carbon footprint. Buying sustainable, small boat fish and cooking it at home is a great way to do both. 

And finally, Matt and Annabel are seeing a return to a more distributed form of buying food. People come to their counter on a Saturday with a loaf of bread from the baker, a bag of vegetables from the grocer and the curiosity to ask Matt what’s new that day and how he recommends they cook it. People are becoming more connected with and interested in the food they eat, and that’s great for the Saffron Fish Co. 


Why Saffron Fish Co. Use ShelfNow

Rachel Hewlett, who runs business development at ShelfNow, used the fishmongers and met Matt and Annabel through that. 

Rachel introduced them to the platform and they were delighted to finally find a wholesaler full of produce you can’t get anywhere else. “A lot of wholesale sites have essentially the exact same lineup of products. With ShelfNow they seem to get access to products no one else has, and there always seems to be new stuff coming in” said Matt. “Plus, Rachel’s great with recommending products she thinks I’d like.”

They also find the payment system easy and flexible, which suits their business, and appreciate the ability to buy in smaller quantities than other wholesalers which often have huge minimum orders.

You can find out more about Saffron Fish Co. on their website here. You can also find them on Instagram and Facebook. 

If you’re a producer who’d like your products on sale at places like Saffron Fish Co, or if you’re a buyer looking for new produce, give ShelfNow a try.