What’s the alternative?

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The Cods Scallops

With the availability and price of cod set to tighten next year, is it time to rethink our dependency on the two main species? The Cod’s Scallops, which operates four shops in Nottingham and one in Birmingham, has over 20 species available, but are customers buying them? 

Scientists working for the Joint Norwegian-Russian Fishery Commission have recommended a 31% reduction in the Barents Sea cod quota for 2025, and typically, their advice is followed. 

While a reduction of that size is substantial, what makes it particularly significant this time is that it follows several consecutive years of cuts. With less cod available, it’s not hard to predict what will happen; prices will go up across the board as supply struggles to keep pace with demand and pressure is put on other species. 

While the reduction could be short-lived – the quota is expected to return to more normal levels in 2026 – it raises the question of whether we should try to reduce our dependency on cod and haddock. This is a challenging prospect, given that these fish have been the mainstay of chippies across the UK for over 160 years. John Molnar, owner of The Cod’s Scallops, believes it is possible but acknowledges that it is also tricky.

Alternative species 

Opening his first Cod’s Scallops in Nottingham in 2011, John has grown the business to include three more shops in Nottingham and one in Birmingham. When it started, the business relied on cod and haddock for 95% of its offerings. Now, that number is down to around 60%, with customers having over 20 alternative species of fish and shellfish to choose from.

“I do get it, a lot of customers just have it in their heads that they have got to have cod and chips or haddock and chips,” says John. “But if you can offer an alternative species and get 10, 15, 20, 25% of customers to take you up on it, that will alleviate some of the pressure when availability is tight and prices are high on cod and haddock.”

Regulars on the menu here are sea bass, coley, salmon, monkfish and plaice, but the one that has gained the most traction and is now the third best-seller after cod and haddock is hake. “Hake is absolutely beautiful, it’s a lot better than cod, I think,” says John. “And because it’s part of the cod family it’s not too different. It’s still nice and white, it’s meaty, has big flakes, and it stays moist when you batter it. We’ve also been selling a lot of coley lately. Again, it’s another white-fleshed fish that’s a great alternative to cod or haddock.”

Sea bass tends to be another top seller for the business, especially when it is baked, offering a lighter alternative to traditional fish and chips. 

“Baked sea bass will 100% heat better than a baked piece of cod because the skin goes nice and crisp and it keeps it moist,” says John. “There’s more flavour to sea bass too so people will have that fish all day long.”

Getting customers to try different species is one thing; getting them to switch permanently is another matter altogether. John would never be so naive as to claim it was an overnight success; it has taken time and effort. He believes his sales are helped by the presence of a wet fish counter, where people can see the fish available.

Loss leader

Whether you have the luxury of a fresh fish counter or not, to get sales off the ground, John believes there is nothing wrong with putting a new fish on as a slight loss leader. 

“Offer an alternative species at, say, 20p cheaper than your cod so that when a customer is at the till and says, ‘cod and chips, please’, the counter staff can say, ‘I’ll just let you know we’ve got coley today or we’ve got hake today, it’s similar in flavour, but it’s 20p cheaper, would you like to try it?’ I know you’ve knocked 20p off what you would have got but you’re pushing the customer on to an alternative species which I guarantee they will order again next time. Plus, if you sell a pot of mushy peas and a curry sauce, you’ve made your money back anyway.”

One of the major problems John identifies with adding another species of fish to the menu is sourcing. While most shops have a frozen fish merchant, not all will have a fresh one and, unless you are close to the coast, this can be problematic. In this instance, John recommends forming a relationship with a local fishmonger. “They will be able to point you in the direction of a cheaper alternative. Just tell them you want something white-fleshed, that’s a bit cheaper and see what they have.”

As well as offering fried fish, considering different ways to cook fish is also worthwhile, as some species will lend themselves to baking or grilling better than battering. From an operational point of view this has its advantages too, says John. 

“A lot of our staff have very little or no skill set when they join us but they can all put a piece of sea bass on a tray, drizzle it with a flavoured oil or a little piece of butter, and put it under a grill. There’s less skill involved in baking than battering because once you’ve put it under the grill, you can forget about it. With a piece of cod, you have to dip it in just the right amount of batter, you’ve got to know when to drop it into the oil, when to turn it to make sure it’s right, and put it up to drain. There are more processes in battering a piece of fish than baking.”


To maximise profits, it not just important knowing what to serve and how to serve it but also what is available when. With over 40 different species available on our shores, there’s certainly no shortage of options when it comes to adding a special, but it involves some homework. John explains: “This time of year, the British coastal shellfish is as cheap as it’s going to be because it’s plentiful because the waters are warmer. 

“We are doing two specials at the moment that include half lobster and chips with garlic butter or dressed crab with a salad and mayonnaise for £15. In the last week, we sold 200 portions. We’re currently getting our lobsters from Grimsby and they are fantastic and reasonably priced. There’s a bit of skill in prepping them but we buy our crabs ready-dressed so there’s no work there. You take it out of the packet and put it straight onto a plate or into a box. That’s a great alternative to offer.”

In addition to promoting other species of fish, John strongly advocates boosting sales of different items by ensuring they are all of the same high quality as your cod and haddock. “We sell Whitby jumbo scampi,” says John. “It’s probably one of the more expensive scampis but that’s why we sell a lot of it, because the quality of it is superb. The same with the pies, I would encourage people to use a local baker or local butcher because then you’ve got a story behind it that you can use to sell them to the customer.”

John also encourages his staff not to miss a chance to cross-sell, saying there is a reason why supermarkets used to put chocolate at the checkout. “I say this to all my staff, once the customers are in the door, we’ve got them. It’s not about trying to squeeze every penny out of them but, if it’s hot, offer them a can out the fridge or an ice cream. Have items on the counter, because they will grab a tartare sauce, a bottle of ketchup or a can of Coke if it’s there.”

John will also run internal competitions between his staff, offering a bottle of wine or a meal of fish and chips to take home to whoever sells the most add-on items. One day it might be squid, another day it might be something as simple as bread and butter. “You sell an extra 20 to 40 portions of bread and butter, and that’s a lot of money,” says John.

If you still remain unconvinced that offering alternative species will significantly shift customers away from cod and haddock, John’s advice is to maintain a good relationship with your fish supplier and become skilled with a fish-cutting knife.

“I’ve used my fish merchant since I started in 2011 and they have always been very loyal back,” he says. “I’ve never not had an option on buying cod. It might be one or two sizes above or below what I normally buy and it might involve a bit of trimming, but we’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had no alternative. So try and stick with a supplier and trust them because they are the ones that know more about fish than us.”

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