One-third of UK fish-and-chip shops could close within the year

Published on
May 23, 2022
A bar graph showing the cost increases that U.K. fish and chip shops have had to endure this summer.

One-third of fish and chip shops in the United Kingdom could go bust this year as inflation, soaring energy costs, and increased food and packaging prices are contributing to make their businesses unsustainable.

London insolvency firm CompanyDebt has launched a new national campaign warning of the crisis, titled “Save The Great British Fish and Chip Shop.” The campaign is designed to raise awareness of the economic pressures threatening the sector and encourage U.K. residents to show support for their local restaurants despite rising prices.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, “a perfect storm of pressures” has assailed the "chippie" industry, according to CompanyDebt. Higher costs for key ingredients, combined with a doubling of energy costs, pose “a very real threat” to the future of the sector in the U.K., it said.

“Your local fish-and-chip sector has absolutely no choice but to raise its prices or face insolvency,” CompanyDebt Insolvency Practitioner Chris Andersen said. “When an industry that traditionally works on tight margins finds every single one of its core ingredients rocketing in price, plus increase labor costs and taxes, you have a recipe for mass insolvencies.”

The fish-and-chip sector is a linchpin of the U.K.'s tourism industry and part of the country’s national identity – but tradition alone isn’t enough to keep the industry afloat, Andersen said.

“All of us who visit the seaside this summer can support this great industry via seeing fish and chips not as a cheap alternative to cooking dinner, but as a tradition that’s worth paying a bit more for,” Andersen said. “If we don’t, we shouldn’t be surprised to find those same premises empty next year.”

According to CompanyDebt, the most dangerous threats to the industry include a 75 percent price increase for cod and haddock due to higher costs of fuel for fishing fleets and increased wages for processing labor; a 30 percent hike on the cost of the potatoes used in chips due to higher fuel prices and the increasing cost of Russian fertilizer; a 60 percent increase in the cost of sunflower oil used for frying following the invasion of Ukraine; and a 38 to 45 percent rise in packaging costs due to the rise in price of paper, materials, labor costs, and transit.

National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF) President Andrew Crook has called the crisis “the most-dangerous threat to the industry in 160 years," citing the doubly whammy of a looming increase in the U.K.'s value-added tax (VAT).

“It’s already terrifying. I’m 22 years in the industry and I’ve been through a lot of scares. But we’ve got a crisis on a crisis and now the rise to minimum wage and potential return to 20 percent VAT,” Crook said. “I’ve never seen anything like it; It’s everything all at once.”  

In response to the crisis, the Norwegian Seafood Council has stepped up with a public campaign and the launch of a new sustainability hub for fish-and-chip shop operators. The NSC is also releasing point-of-sale materials including branded window stickers, bag and box stickers, and A3 posters through a number of their suppliers, it said in a pres release.

“We’re delighted to offer these sustainability resources to talented and dedicated fish-and-chip shop operators across the U.K. We expect them to drive engagement with customers around the issue of sustainability, and ultimately give them a greater understanding of the importance of sustainable seafood," NSC U.K. Director Hans Frode Kielland Asmyhr said. “We’ve already seen a shift in consumer understanding of the positives of well-sourced meat, eggs and dairy, but we’re not as far down the line with this education piece for the fish industry in the UK. It’s important that we change this. The more we can tell customers about where their fish is from, and the effort that goes into making sure it’s as sustainable as it can be, the greater chance we have of getting U.K. consumers to understand the incredible value they are getting from a portion of quality fish and chips.”

Graphic courtesy of CompanyDebt

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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