The end of fish and chips? Rising prices threaten a British tradition

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  • Russian seas supply fish to Britain
  • Ukrainian sunflower oil fuels fryers
  • UK Arctic cod quota dwindled after Brexit, company says
  • Threat of sanctions for Russian fish

WEST DRAYTON, England, May 26 (Reuters) – At Hooked Fish and Chips in west London, Bally Singh is struggling to ring the tills for a British tradition, with prices soaring for fish, potatoes, cooking oil and even the flour used. for the batter in which the dish is baked.

Starting their boiling oil fryers only to see customers stay home, Singh and thousands of other normally prosperous “chippies” across the island nation are navigating the economic fallout from war in Ukraine, the coronavirus pandemic and of Brexit.

“Fish prices have gone up exorbitantly; oil prices have gone up exorbitantly; and everything we sell across the spectrum has gone up exorbitantly,” Singh told Reuters.

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Fish and chips in hand, Prime Minister Boris Johnson once promised to “rebuild the dough” from the pandemic.

Now, however, rising prices are pushing the UK economy even further off course. A third of fish and chip shops are at risk of bankruptcy this year due to a “perfect storm” of price pressures, according to insolvency firm Company Debt.

In just one year, prices for Britain’s favorite fish – cod and haddock – have risen by 75%, sunflower oil by 60% and meal by 40%, Company Debt said.

Inflation hit a 40-year high of 9% in April, the highest in the G7, and is expected to rise further. British consumers are more pessimistic than their European counterparts, leading to criticism of government and Bank of England efforts to contain the cost of living. Read more

Cod and chips in Singh’s shop now cost £9.50, up from £7.95 a year ago. And Singh said if he passed on all the higher costs, the price would be closer to 11 pounds.

“We’re struggling to keep our prices reasonable and competitive with other fast food outlets in the area, and we’ve actually seen a drop in fish sales and customers coming through the door.”

In the southern seaside town of Swanage, customers said Britain’s inflation problem meant making tough choices.

“It’s fine for me to go over there and get a portion for myself, but it was eleven pounds for one person,” said Paula Williams, 66, a carer from Weymouth, on a bench at the exterior of the Fish Plaice store.

“When you have a party of five or six, it’s probably more expensive than going to a restaurant.”

BRITTANY RUSSIAN FISH FOOD

Breaded fish and fried chips, the chunky equivalent of chips in the United States, have fueled Britons since the combination was invented 160 years ago.

The meal is such a staple that unlike other foods in Britain, it was not rationed during the World Wars. Crisps, with their characteristic smell of oil and vinegar, remain present in most cities.

Some of the recent difficulties faced by fish and chip shops began after Brexit, said distant water trawler company UK Fisheries, estimating that the amount of Arctic cod Britain is allowed to catch in 2022 has been reduced to about 40% of what it was before leaving Europe. Union.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has driven up fuel and electricity prices, further increasing the cost of catching and frying fish. The war has also pushed up the prices of cooking oil, fertilizer and flour.

Cod and haddock come from the Barents Sea, north of Norway and Russia, and the war has increased uncertainty about these supplies.

In March, the British government listed Russian whitefish among the goods subject to a 35% tariff as part of sanctions in response to the invasion of Ukraine. He suspended the movement, for now, while the impact is investigated.

Sunflower oil is the main agricultural product the UK imports from Ukraine and the government says it is working to replace it with other vegetable oils: for example, receiving additional shipments of rapeseed from Ukraine. Australia after a heavy harvest there.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was ‘working closely with industry, including the National Fish Fryer Federation, to alleviate the challenges they face. are faced”.

However, the federation said fish and chip shops were facing the biggest crisis in their history.

“I get daily phone calls from people who are worried about going bankrupt,” NFFF chairman Andrew Crook told Reuters.

‘THE MEAL OF THE POOR’

Footfall data from Springboard shows the number of shoppers in Britain’s high streets is down 15% from levels in 2019, before the pandemic.

Fish and chip shops are more at risk than some big businesses, Yael Selfin, chief economist at KPMG UK, told Reuters, because they lack the buying power to get better deals when global prices rise.

“We expect consumers and households to re-evaluate their spending and potentially reduce spending,” Selfin said.

At his sleek, newly refurbished store in West Drayton, a suburb of Johnson’s own parliamentary constituency, Singh is looking to cut costs and has added cheaper hake and pollock to the menu. But energy-intensive stoves should stay on.

“If nobody comes, we lose money and we have to keep the oil hot,” he said.

In Swanage, builder Malcolm Petherick, 73, fears the changes he has seen in his lifetime could cause Britain to lose some of its cultural heritage.

“When I was growing up, it was a poor man’s meal,” he said.

“Now I’ve just bought two batches of fish and chips: 23 pounds. What family can afford that?”

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Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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