On the East Quay in Looe, where the old fish market once had its place, sits Nippers Shellfish, an online Cornish wholesale and retail business with a successful approach to tempting the public to try new seafood species.
The owner, Sam Chapman, is a first-generation seafood merchant but is no stranger to the fishing community, coming from a family of fishermen and trawler manufacturers. We visited Sam at Nippers’ new processing shed, where skilled employees were hard at work handling a fresh catch of herring from Mevagissey. He took us to the quayside entrance for a chat as the winter sun shone down on Nippers’ own dayboats, moored just outside.
With a passion for Cornwall, seafood and selling, Sam opened Nippers Shellfish in 2018 and has engaged all his efforts into creating a business that is centred around making high quality seafood accessible, and promoting that signature Cornish variety.
A notable way Sam believes he does this best is through Nippers’ wildly popular ‘Catch of the Day’ box. Customers order a box online and delivered to their door – the very next day – arrives a package bursting with Cornish seafood. And the best part? It’s all a mystery until you tear it open.
“The ‘Catch of the Day’ box has been a fantastic success at getting people to try new things,” Sam told us. “Every time we put something new on the website, sales go mental!”
Most of Sam’s seafood is sold in 300g vacuum packs, which is the ideal portion size for two. He showed us an example of what this might look like, which changes frequently depending on what is caught locally and seasonally – (so this isn’t a spoiler – we promise!).
Details are also important to Sam, who has ensured that each packet of fish, whether part of a mystery box or not, is labelled with the location of where the species was caught and the fisherman’s own name – a proper Cornish touch: “Our customers love to know where it all comes from and, because our operations are so local, we can trace each one back to the source.”
Since opening, Sam has collated over 1300 customers subscribers to his website, and 200 returning customers per fortnight. He has also noticed a shift in interest towards seasonal produce since he first started his business: “90 percent of the calls I get nowadays are people asking what’s in season… I think it’s fantastic, and it’ll only help sales with everyone – not just us.”
Sam has been in Looe around 12 years, and has always found himself working within the seafood supply chain: “I was 18 and skint, and started box washing at the fish market, which progressed into helping out with other market duties and processing…then I fancied a go on my own. It’s the sort of thing where if you’re willing to put the work in, you get rewarded.”
Like most seafood operations in Cornwall, sustainability is of great importance to Sam. One such initiative focuses on food waste: “There is no wastage whatsoever, and that was really important to us when we started.
“Anything left-over is either frozen, put in a fish pie box or used as bait by the fishermen.”
Out on the water, the fishermen skippering the dayboats that deliver to Nippers also implement a 100mm mesh size on their nets, which allows smaller fish to escape through the holes and continue to grow and breed. This helps maintain fish stocks out at sea.
Sam also let us in on the customer favourites, and surprising species he sees ordered most often: “Haddock is a favourite,” he said. “We also had over 1000 fish pies in our freezer over Christmas, and by January they were all gone! We’ve been buying fish specifically for fish pies, so it’s really high quality and up to a good standard”
“Gurnard is a big seller too, which I never thought would happen!”
Sam is optimistic about the future of Cornish seafood, and the imprint it is making on the nation, as months that are usually seen as a “write off”, like January, have been busier than ever for Nippers. The same consumer demand that saw thousands of fishmongers pivot to online services during the pandemic is, seemingly, here to stay.
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