Business leaders in the fish and chip industry are calling on the government to offer a “long-term strategy” for their food shortage crisis – or face a shutdown of a third of chippies.
The National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF) has warned that the four main ingredients that make up a traditional fish and chip meal are being deeply affected by the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine — forcing stores to change their menus, raise prices, or in the worst case close.
The UK is mainly dependent on Ukraine for sunflower oil. The NFFF has said that 50% of the oil used by British fish and chip shops comes from the war-ravaged country – and alternatives such as canola oil and palm oil have risen in price.
Up to 40% of cod and haddock come from Russia – and Britain’s sanctions against Russian whitefish will make these North Sea supplies scarcer and more expensive.
Fertilizer for potatoes – mainly from Russia – has tripled in price. Flour, used for fish batter mixes, also comes from the region.
As a result, there is a global shortage of key ingredients, driving up costs and shrinking profit margins.
Knights is a fish and chip shop in Glastonbury.
It is believed to be one of the oldest family-run chippies in the UK to have started trading in Somerset during Queen Victoria’s reign.
The impact of COVID and the cost of living crisis has hit these types of family businesses hard.
‘Worst times ahead’
George Morey, 29, runs the takeaway.
The family business survived two world wars, recessions and a global pandemic.
But George fears the war in Ukraine could be the nail in the coffin.
He said, “Will there be enough (fish) if we refuse to buy Russian whitefish? It’s a really big concern.
“Will we have to consider looking for another product on the menu to replace fish and chips – could the impact be that extreme? I think if prices keep going up we might consider that.”
George added: “We need to prepare for the worst times ahead, and I think this is arguably the biggest challenge the fish and chip industry has ever faced.”
Entrepreneur James Lipscombe owns 40 fish and chip shops across the country.
He’s diversified his stock range — lesser-known fish on the menu, such as hake — to offer his regulars affordable meals.
He told Sky News: “I’ve never seen anything like it.
“I see a whole raft of fish and chip shop closures in the UK week on week. I see shops closing and it’s a really sad state of affairs.”
Ask for action
He added: “We’ve been doing this as a family for a long time. We’ve been involved in this industry for almost 100 years. It’s sad to see what’s happening through no fault of these companies.”
Climate change could threaten traditional fish and chips
Industry leaders are desperate for intervention.
Andrew Crook, president of the National Federation of Fish Friers, calls on the government to act with greater urgency.
He told Sky News that many of its members think those in power “don’t care” about the potential damage his sector is experiencing.
“Respond now! We need action before long-term damage is done that cannot be repaired,” he said.
“We’re not looking for handouts. We’re a proud industry. But many companies will go out of business and we need a long-term strategy to get us through it.”
A government spokesman told Sky News it “will continue to talk with the industry association, the National Federation of Fish Friers and other industry representatives about the current pressures they are facing.”
The future of this coastal stock remains unclear.
But there are fears that unless the situation changes, it will mean less availability – and possibly higher prices – for those seeking one of the country’s favorite meals.