Forman & Sons first opened in 1905 by Lance Formans great-grandfather Aaron ‘Harry’ Forman. We speak to Lance on keeping the family business alive, what impacts a companies longevity and never compromising on quality. We also chat about Boris Johnson and how the food industry will take to Brexit…
Into_View Magazine: Hello Lance, we are a big fans of Forman & Sons smoked salmon and it is a great pleasure to be interviewing you.
Lance Forman: And an equal pleasure to be interviewed by you!
Into_View Magazine: Please can you start by giving us a bit of background information on Forman & Sons family history?
Lance Forman: We are the world’s oldest producer of smoked salmon. The business was founded by my great-grandfather in 1905. He was a Jewish émigré from Odessa who settled in London’s East End. Originally he smoked salmon from the Baltic, just for the local community as a way of preserving fish, but when he discovered the majestic Scottish salmon and cured that, the quality was so amazing, people fell in love with it and London Cure Smoked Salmon was born as Britain’s first ever home-grown gourmet delicacy. It became one of the most popular foods across the western world during the 20th century.
Into_View Magazine: Did you always know that you would be joining the family business?
Lance Forman: No. I have three careers first in Accountancy, Politics and Real Estate (in Eastern Europe). Many family businesses suffer when the next generation are expected to join but don’t have experience from elsewhere.
Into_View Magazine: When you first took over the business it experienced huge growth and doubled in size in a matter of two years (1994-1996). Had you already planned and anticipated this growth before taking over?
Lance Forman: Not really, but whenever there is fresh blood and a fresh impetus from the new generation, one can expect the newcomer to try and make their mark. Since then the growth has not been quite so huge, but last Christmas we had 100 employees. When I started there were only 14.
Into_View Magazine: Please could you tell us about the curing process and what goes on behind the name the London Cure?
Lance Forman: People think that smoked salmon should taste of smoke and of salmon. This is wrong! The purpose of the cure is to draw the moisture out of the fish to preserve it and concentrate the flavour. As the fish dries, the surface becomes tacky and so when the smoke circulates around the cured fillets, the smoke particles stick to the flesh, creating a seal. They didn’t have vacuum packing 100 years ago! Before eating the salmon, the smoky seal has to be trimmed off and underneath the delicious concentrated salmon flavour is revealed, with just a hint of smoke, and definitely no sugar. London Cure Smoked Salmon is thus not slimy or smoky and is a clean, delicate flavour and tastes the way smoked salmon always used to taste when people craved it. Mass production has put many people off.
Into_View Magazine: Congratulations on achieving the Protected Geographical Indication status! How did this come about and what does it mean for Forman & Sons?
Lance Forman: It helps us re-educate consumers about smoked salmon. And not only consumers but chefs too. We often say to chefs and restaurateurs – if you restaurant was in the Champagne region of France, you wouldn’t dare put Prosecco on your menu; if it was in the Parma region of Italy, you would be embarrassed to have Iberico Ham on your menu. So when in London, if smoked salmon appears on a menu, it really ought to be “London Cure Smoked Salmon”
Into_View Magazine: What do you think are the key factors determining the longevity of a business?
Lance Forman: Never compromising your principles. We never sacrifice quality to make a cost saving.
Into_View Magazine: Have you got any future plans or collaborations that you can reveal to us?
Lance Forman: We think planning is over-rated! Who knows what’s round the next corner? We focus on doing what we do well, remaining flexible to deal with challenges thrown at us and also to seize unexpected opportunities as they come along. In a few weeks we will be opening a small deli at the smokehouse.
Into_View Magazine: We love the Boris Bagel! Was it his idea or yours?
Lance Forman: Boris was interviewed and asked what is favourite Bagel filling was. He responded that there’s nothing better than a Forman’s Smoked Salmon Bagel. How could we not name our Bagels after Boris with praise like that. He also once claimed that “Forman’s is not just a smokehouse, but a salmon theme-park!” Love it!
Into_View Magazine: How do you think the food industry will cope with Brexit?
Lance Forman: Admirably. Within weeks, everyone will be wondering what all the fuss was about.
Into_View Magazine: What advice can you give our readers about running a successful company at this time?
Lance Forman: Read my book – “Forman’s Games”. It contains many useful business lessons and when you’ve read about all the crises – fire, flood, fraud and eviction - we’ve had to deal with over the years, it will make you feel much better about your own challenges.