The return of scampi to menus in chippies, homes, pubs and restaurants has taken the firm’s turnover to £40 million with a 12 per cent year-on-year sales increase.
Scampi is made from small lobsters, also known as British langoustines or Dublin Bay prawns.
Their nuggets of tail flesh are coated in breadcrumbs. Whitby’s are frozen, then deep fried or oven-baked§§ and served with chunky chips and mushy peas.
Almost exclusively eaten in the UK and ex-pat strongholds such as Spain’s Costas, the foodservice sector is where scampi is currently doing best.
Along with seafood sandwiches it was the only seafood item to crop up more frequently on menus (a 1.7 per cent increase) last year, where all others fell, according to figures from food market researcher NPD Crest.
“Many presume scampi is made from cheap or low quality fish, but in fact it is high premium,” says analyst Richard Watson from industry body Seafish.
“It is a great product that shoppers should revisit as producers have recently put a tasty new twist on traditional scampi with new flavours and coatings.”
Based on the north Yorkshire coast, Whitby Seafoods sources from seas around Britain and Ireland, before manufacturing 7,635 tonnes of scampi a year from its four UK sites.
Whitby’s chief executive Graham Whittle founded the family firm 30 years ago and now employs 350 in what is a labour-intensive industry.
Supply chain developments over time have increasingly improved the product’s flavour and quality, he says.
“Our fish comes from the remotest places, and by nature it is unpredictable. But better transport and communications technology mean our scampi can retain all its flavour on its journey from catch to plate.”
Those advances have enabled Whitby to expand into retail with supermarket customers such as Tesco and more widely in the food service sector with pub chains such as JD Weatherspoon and Greene King, explains Whittle.
“The Whitby taste is distinctive, clean and slightly sweet. People have become more discerning about quality and demand authenticity, so our brand, locations and sourcing are now features that customers actively seek. It’s a golden age for scampi.”