Derbyshire fish and chip industry 'under threat' as further cost pressures loom

Fish and chip shop owners in Derbyshire say prices have gone up ‘massively’ and fear many chippies will be forced to shut in the coming months as they struggle to make ends meet.

Thursday, 24th March 2022, 3:56 pm

Worries are being echoed across the industry as a result of several factors including the knock-on effect of Covid-19, rising wages, higher energy bills, the possibility of sanctions on fish from Russia and the potential that VAT will rise, according to the National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF).

Chris Ioannides, director of Chesters on Sheffield Road in Chesterfield, said chippy’s haven’t been given the opportunity to show the true “struggle” they are facing and is calling for more support from the Government.

He is gearing up to open a second branch at Junction 29a of the M1, but now faces delays amid a battle to secure a gas and electric supplier for the new site.

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Chris Ionnides owner of Chesters in Chesterfield.

Chris fears this and other “extortionate” costs could mean that Chesters and many others soon won’t be able to operate, unless customers pay “steak prices” for fish.

He said: “This has been going back six months. We’re facing issues with rising costs, it’s extortionate. Throughout the pandemic everything went up anyway regarding the packaging, the oil, and all other supplies seeing 30 per cent rises.

"When the Government had a reduced VAT we didn’t notice it as much because the five per cent original reduction took away some of the cost increases.

"Then it went up to 12.5 per cent and our profit margins virtually disappeared. Come April, when it goes back to the usual 20 per cent, I think it’s going to be the end of a lot of small businesses in this trade unfortunately.

Pete Grafton, owner of Toll Bar Fish and Chips in Stoney Middleton

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“We’re opening a new Chesters which is delayed because all of this. We can’t even get new contracts for gas and electric because they’re now sanctioning all the gases [from Russia] – there’s not enough gas and electricity to supply businesses and if you are getting a supply the cost has just gone up massively.

“[For gas] we were paying £12,000 a year but now its working out at between £50,000 and £60,000 a year. Electric is the same, it’s gone up from £20,000 a year so we’ll be paying around £70,000 in total all because of this.

"If you put the figures on paper it’s criminal. How do they expect businesses to survive? Something needs to be done here and the Government, in my eyes, have almost put a blanket over it. We’ve almost been chucked under the bus.

Chris Ionnides owner of Chesters in Chesterfield.

Between 40 to 60 per cent of white fish, such as cod and haddock, consumed in the UK is purchased from Russian sources.

But as shops and suppliers stop importing from the warring nation, Chris has been told to expect a 35 per cent increase with the demand for fish from other countries inevitably driving up prices.

“That’s if you can get it,” the Chesters director added. “We’re lucky enough that we’re a big customer forum but the small shops can’t even get hold of it.”

"Do you expect to sell fish and chips for £15, because that’s where it’s going. We had to have a price increase in October to get by because everything had gone up.. all our prices have tripled or quadrupled.

"The profit margin has disappeared completely and for shops now it’s just about keeping afloat and keeping the doors open, rather than making a profit until it all settles.”

Peter Grafton, the owner of Toll Bar Fish and Chips in Stoney Middleton, has raised prices each year in line with inflation but says they may have to increase further due to the current squeeze on the industry.

He is now concerned that this, coupled with rising living costs, could result in a fall in customers numbers as many might not simply be able to afford the luxury of a “chippy tea”.

"Price increases prior to Ukraine have been a constant worry, many items have gone up massively; peas used to be £9 a bag, they are now £18, sausage has risen massively as has chicken but yes the largest increase on raw materials is fish,” Pete said.

“Ours has gone up over 25 per cent a rise we cannot fully pass on to our customers. I do think with everything else going up in the household, the chippy tea could be one of the first cut backs.

"Like everyone else we have seen huge rises in energy costs, this too does not help us.

"Historically I have raised prices by a few per cent each year to cover inflation. I did increase some items (fish) by a little more this year, albeit I can see me having no choice but to increase prices again very soon. It’s no good being busy fools and losing money.

"I do believe that we can always do things to help keep price increases as low as possible; cut out waste, shop around, look to bulk buy and store, move away from brands that command a premium but are often no better, cutout the middle men and buy direct from manufacturers this has been our focus to date this year.

"The last one that hits us all are staff wages, I increased staff wages by five per cent last year. I understand our staffs bills at home go up and that they need more to maintain a fair standard of living. Squeezing staff pay is not an option for me, we have the best team and do everything we can to keep them happy.

"The next year is going to be tricky. Perhaps people who struggle most may have to cut a few ‘nice-to-haves‘ out, hopefully not.

"I’m hoping we can do all we can to keep increases to an absolute minimum so we can still serve our loyal, friendly best customers in the world with tasty good quality fish and chips.”

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