With just yards between the sea and the counter, it doesn't get much fresher than at Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales' new retail venture Fish. Richard Ford reports

Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales’ business model is the ultimate lesson in vertical integration. The fishmonger brings in its catch just yards away from the entrance to its shop – aptly named Fish – on Brighton quayside. As they buy their fish, through porthole-shaped windows in the shop, customers can even view the fishing trawlers.

Principally a fish wholesale business supplying the primary processing and foodservice sectors, BNFS has operated a small fish counter out of one of its warehouses for 20 years. But the frequent queues of customers stretching out of the door encouraged the company to take the plunge and open a retail premises in its own right. Approximately £130,000 and several months of hard labour later, Fish opened its doors at the beginning of March.

It might seem the wrong time to be investing in a retail venture – not least because the memory of fish retail and restaurant chain FishWorks falling into administration earlier this year is still raw. However, shop manager Paul Bennett (pictured above with Jo Joyce) believes he has two factors working in his favour; the efficiency of the BNFS operation and the lack of choice offered by the supermarkets.

“There are certain things supermarkets do really well. Fish they struggle with, which is why the size of the counters is so small,” says Bennett. “When you’re looking at an industry that’s catching less and less fish, which are more and more expensive to catch, then you want to get as much as you possibly can out of it. If we can sell a piece of fish to a restaurant we might be able to get £1.10 for it. If I can sell it to a customer, I can get £1.20 for it.”

Fish sells a range of fresh fish, including sea bass, plaice and lemon sole, caught by BNFS’s own boats. It also stocks a selection of complementary products such as Hollandaise sauce, utensils and pots of fresh herbs. The aim of the shop, according to Matt Leach, joint proprietor of BNFS and Fish, is to make fish as accessible as possible to the consumer.

“We’re giving as much assistance as we can, so people know not to be frightened of fish,” he says. Fish’s customers are as diverse as its catch. “We get an old lady coming in who wants a little piece of cod for her tea and then we get people who come in here and spend £150 on just a week’s worth of fish,” says Bennett.

BNFS also supplies a number of restaurants around the south east and supplies Tesco, Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer through third parties. Some smaller fish varieties, which don’t have a ready market in the UK, are exported to northern France, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands.

Leach won’t dismiss rolling out the Fish retail format. He does, however, question whether the Fish model would work away from the quayside. Having the shop so close to the sea, he believes, “gives the concept so much credibility”.

In a time when business credibility counts more than ever, that can be no bad thing.