No fishy business here, just fish AND business. Arthur Voelcker is a lover of fishing, and Hugo has built up years of experience opening and running businesses. Together, they’ve created a hugely successful artisan fish farm – changing the perception of tiny trout forever. In this weeks episode, there’s a lot of science, sustainability and cooking talk to get your teeth into.
00:00:00 Marks introduction
00:02:21 Meeting Arthur and Hugo, setting the scene on the chalkstream farm
00:02:42 Starting with Arthur and his history of fishing
- 00:03:17 “I’ve been taken under the wing of a couple of people, who got me into fishing when I did biology at Uni. Very keen on the natural world.”
00:03:31 Arthur heading up to London and working for Fullers
00:04:08 Hugo’s career, his life ‘before fish’
- 00:04:47 Starting a coffee business in 1995
00:05:01 What got Hugo interested in fish?
- 00:05:11 “I was looking for a new challenge. I am proud of being from Hampshire and I really wanted to do something local.”
00:06:05 Asking Arthur – how are the fish farmed on the chalk streams?
- 00:07:24 “What we are doing now – we have moved away from the portion trout to these much larger trout. 3 kilos. That can now rival your farmed salmon, loch trout and provide a fantastic alternative.”
00:07:51 Hugo – the chef’s perception of trout, and how it’s changed
00:08:30 Arthur – Why and how are chalk stream trout different?
- 00:09:00 “There’s only 210 chalk streams in the world. 98% of those are found in England.”
- 00:09:10 “We’ve got this wonderful chalk stream water coming into the farms – it’s very high flow, there’s about 2 tonnes per second entering our farms on average. That means these trout are swimming the whole time – it’s as if they’re on a treadmill.”
00:10:15 Why are the farms on the old watermills? The science behind good trout
- 00:11:46 Filtration of water, taking six months and keeping the flow
00:12:24 Providing fish all year round – how the seasons work with the farms
00:13:21 Where does the name ‘Chalkstream’ come from? Chatting branding with Hugo
- 00:15:04 Is it becoming a big name amongst competitors?
00:15:40 Arthur – the process of bringing a trout in, and how long till it ends up on a plate
- 00:16:12 “They come onto the farm as we call them a ‘fing-ling’… And it takes two years to get them up to their average size of 3 kilos.”
00:16:54 Hugo – convincing the fish farmers to grow their fish for longer
- 00:17:25 “It was almost like we were creating a new fish – so there was a degree of hesitancy across the board.”
00:18:17 Arthur – convincing people to buy the fish
- 00:18:54 “It was hard work. Hugo and I went around knocking on chef’s doors, pretty shameless really, but the key was our power point presentation… Our power point presentation was an a3 picture of our farm… And we used to take a sample of one of these fish.”
00:21:52 Did Hugo’s previous experience in Hospitality help with selling the fish?
00:22:42 The turning point in the business – being featured in a Guardian article
00:24:25 Working with P&O cruises – how this boosted business
00:25:40 Scaling up – how did Hugo, Arthur and the team manage the growth in supply?
- 00:25:50 “I remember that day – we went to go see John, it was the day after my birthsta. That was the day we stopped doing kilos and started dealing in tonnes. That was a pretty monumental movement.”
00:26:52 Did Chalkstream have to make any sacrifices to produce higher quantities?
- 00:27:25 “We’ve had a few sticky moments where we haven’t had the volume – and we could have used a higher protein feed and put the weight on more. But that actually would have taken us away what we are really good at doing – producing high quality trout.”
00:28:34 The struggle of handling a ‘live’ product – lead times and loyalty
00:30:55 Seasonality – does trout have a season?
00:31:29 The change of chef perceptions
- 00:32:15 The ability to control price
00:33:16 Sustainability & the environment – how does Chalkstream manage this?
- 00:35:50 “If you imagine your hand as a pellet, and 70% of your hand is made up of vegetable oils and proteins, and 30% is made up of marine oils and proteins – it’s that 30% we are looking to reduce the whole time.”
- 00:37:11 “The perception of agriculture is that it takes a huge amount of feed from the oceans to produce one farmed fish. The reality is that that process is becoming ever more efficient.”
00:37:54 How is the perception of organic farming changing? Is it improving?
00:39:23 Was sustainability always the goal from the beginning, or was it to make a good fish?
00:40:13 What is Hugo most proud of since starting five years ago?
00:41:04 Exporting – sending to Singapore
00:41:24 Will we ever get to a point of big fish heading into super markets? Chalkstream doesn’t currently have plans to move into supplying super markets
00:43:13 Which part of the business gives Arthur the most pleasure?
- 00:43:34 “I love fish. I remember one of the first farm tours where I had taken two down to the farm… and the guys at the time said ‘where are you gonna go with this?’. I said well hopefully, this whole farm will be converted over to large trout.”
00:45:17 Is there anything Hugo would have done differently, having opened businesses before?
- 00:45:49 “There is no secret, magic way of getting these businesses to get into a successful position. It’s been tough. We are lucky with what we’ve got.”
00:46:10 Business advice – good or bad from Hugo
- 00:46:21 “I tell everyone here: there’s two rules to my life. I have a special app on my phone – my phone only accepts good news. If you have any bad news, sort it out yourself. I’m too old for that.”
00:46:55 Any advice from Arthur from people who want to start a business
- 00:47:35 “If you like doing something, and you think it’s a good idea – go for it.”
00:47:42 The future of Chalkstream, have the boys got any plans?
00:48:01 Where to find out more about Arthur, Hugo & Chalkstream
00:49:50 Marks final thoughts
If you’re looking to learn a little bit more about the Hugo and Arthur, their journey starting up a successful and sustainable trout farm and the science behind chalk filtered water… Check out the podcast here or check out Chalksteams social media & website: