Business leaders in the fish and chip industry are calling on the government to offer a “long-term strategy” to their food shortages crisis – or face a third of chippies closing.
The National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF) has warned the four key ingredients that make up a traditional fish and chip meal are deeply affected by the on-going conflict between Russia and Ukraine – and are forcing shops to change their menus, increase prices, or in the worst instance, close down.
The UK is mainly reliant on Ukraine for sunflower oil. The NFFF has said 50% of oil used by British fish and chip shops comes from the war-stricken country – and alternatives like rapeseed oil and palm oil have shot up in price.
Up to 40% of cod and haddock comes from Russia – and Britain’s sanctions on Russian white fish will make these North Sea supplies scarcer and pricier.
Fertiliser for potatoes – mainly from Russia – have tripled in price. Flour, used for fish batter mixes, also hails from the region.
As a result, there is a global shortage of key ingredients, which means costs are surging, as profit margins dwindle.
Knights is a fish and chip shop in Glastonbury.
It’s thought to be one of the oldest family-run chippies in the UK having begun trading in Somerset during the reign of Queen Victoria.
The impact of COVID and the cost-of-living crisis have hit family businesses like this one hard.
‘Worst times ahead’
George Morey, 29, manages the takeaway.
The family business survived through two World Wars, recessions and a global pandemic.
But George is worried the war in Ukraine might be the nail in the coffin.
He said: “Will there be enough (fish) if we refuse to buy Russian white fish? It’s a real big concern.
“Will we have to consider finding another product for the menu to replace fish and chips – could the impact be that extreme? I think if prices keep increasing, it may be a thing we keep in mind.”
George added: “We have to prepare ourselves for the worst times ahead, and I think it’s possibly the biggest challenge the fish and chip industry has faced, ever.”
Entrepreneur James Lipscombe owns 40 fish and chip shops across the country.
He has diversified his stock range – adding less-known fish to the menu, like hake – to offer his regular customers affordable meals.
He told Sky News: “I’ve never seen anything like it.
“I’m seeing a swathe of fish and chip shop closures across the U.K. Week on week I’m seeing shops close and it’s a really sad state of affairs.”
Demand for action
He added: “We’ve done this as a really long time as a family. Nearly 100 years we’ve been involved in this industry. It’s sad to see what’s happening, through no fault of these businesses.”
The industry’s leaders are desperate for intervention.
Andrew Crook, president of the National Federation of Fish Friers, is calling on the government to act with more urgency.
He told Sky News many of his members think those in power “do not care” about the potential harm his sector faces.
“Act now! We need action before long-term damage is done that can’t be repaired,” he said.
“We aren’t after handouts. We are a proud industry. But a lot of businesses will go to the wall and we need a long-term strategy to see us through.”
A government spokesperson told Sky News it will “continue to speak with the industry body, the National Federation of Fish Friers, and other sector representatives about current pressures they face.”
The future of this seaside staple remains unclear.
But there are fears unless the situation changes, it will mean less availability – and possibly higher prices – for those seeking one of the nation’s favourite meals.