By Jason Holland, SeafoodSource contributing editor reporting from London
Published on 24 January, 2013
Fish and chips is an institution that Brits hold very dear, but with 10,000 businesses — mostly independent outlets — generating annual sales of around GBP 1.2 billion (EUR 1.4 billion/USD 1.9 billion), the industry is of huge importance to the country’s economy too. The fish and chip market also accounts for around 25 percent of all the whitefish and 10 percent of the potatoes consumed in the country.
Thursday 24 January, the sector came together in London for the Seafish-organized 25th annual National Fish & Chip Awards, which was initiated in 1988 to raise standards across the industry and to reward individual “chippies” judged to be going that extra bit further. Today, it is a major social event, pulling in 650 guests and attracting considerable media attention.
Participation in the competition is also good for trade. According to Seafish, some previous winners of the main prize have seen their turnovers double, and they are not the only beneficiaries — regional finalists have seen their takings rise by 30 percent, while regional winners have reported 50 percent increases.
One of the most important criteria for entries into the awards process is sustainability and establishing responsible sourcing policies for fish. As is the case with the country’s supermarkets, most of the cod and haddock sold in the fish and chip trade comes from abundant and certified stocks in the Barents Sea and Icelandic waters. A lot of this fish is frozen-at-sea (FAS) by factory trawlers, which process and quick-freeze within a few hours of capture.
However, the winner of this year’s Best Independent Takeaway Fish and Chip Shop accolade, The Bay Fish and Chips (pictured), in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, has a very different sustainable sourcing policy; one that’s based upon buying fresh, local, seasonal fish from the Scottish boats on its doorstep.
Owner Calum Richardson takes sustainability very seriously. The Bay was the first U.K. fish and chip shop to gain Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Chain of Custody for Scottish North Sea haddock. Everything else the shop sells must appear on the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) Good Fish Guide.
Richardson also spends a lot of time telling his customers which fish to eat and which to avoid, and has been raising awareness in schools through MSC’s Fish & Kids campaign for a number of years.
The National Fish & Chip Shop award wasn’t The Bay’s only accolade at the 2013 ceremony; it also scooped The Good Catch Award for improvements made to the environmental practices of the business. And in the last year, its other titles include the Scotland Food and Drink Excellence Award for Environmental Sustainability; the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s (SRA) Special Award for embracing fully the concept of sustainable fish, scoring 100 percent in the sustainable seafood section of the SRA Star Rating survey; and it was named the Scottish Green Awards’ Best Green Small Company.
Richardson told SeafoodSource the awards are largely down to The Bay’s sourcing policy as well as the attention it gives to reducing the company’s carbon footprint. But he added that being named the country’s best chip shop is the “amazing” prize that his family and his staff wanted above all others.
As for the attention and additional custom that the title usually brings, Richardson said that while that will “of course, be good news and nice for the business,” it wasn’t the main motive behind its entry into the competition.
“For us, and most of the previous winners will tell you the same, it’s really not about that; it’s a personal ambition thing rather than a financial one.”
Other big winners at the 2013 awards ceremony included: RockFish Seafood & Chips, in Dartmouth, Devon, which took the Independent Fish and Chip Restaurant of the Year Award; Pantrini’s of Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear, which won the Best Multiple Fish and Chip Operator Award; and Wm Morrison Supermarkets, which received the Best Multiple Foodservice Outlet Serving Fish and Chips Award.