English “fish and chips” sunk by the war in Ukraine? – Economy

They’ve survived Brexit and Covid and are floundering in the face of historic inflation, but a war in Ukraine risks sinking thousands of sellers of British fish and chips, the national symbol of popular and cheap gastronomy.

At Captain’s in Brighton, on the south coast of England, owner Pam Sandhu is not one to complain. But in her large refrigerators, she shows off her empty shelves when she wants them filled with white fish meant to be served with fries, as tradition dictates. “With the war in Ukraine, there are no more fish, or very few,” she says. “And prices have doubled since last year.”

Pam Sandhu, owner of Captain’s in Brighton, specializing in fish and chips. (AFP)

On this sunny spring Friday, she worries about having enough fish to finish her weekend. She has worked fish and chips for 30 years, often seven days a week, and says she has never faced sourcing issues or such cost pressures before. She bought her restaurant in Brighton, whose terrace overlooks the beach, three years ago and planned to open in March 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the project. Then she had to deal with inflation … and recently with the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia.

Popular dish under threat

According to Andrew Crook, president of the National Fried Fish Sellers Federation (NFFF), Russia typically supplies 30-40% of the fish (mostly cod and haddock) sold in the UK. Ukraine is also the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil used for frying. Pam talks about a “lack” of oil. In mid-March, London announced a 35 percent tariff on Russian whitefish, heightening concerns as fish and chips are already facing rising gas prices, another major concern for Pam.

A popular dish that originated in the 1860s and was once featured in newspapers, fish and chips are made with breaded fried white fish fillets and french fries, sometimes served with mashed peas and tartar sauce. “We have always been considered cheap food, our margins have always been quite low, and we are working on volumes. Unfortunately, as prices rise, it is very difficult to protect your margin, it is erased, ”Andrew Crook explains to AFP.

A customer sits and eats his fish and chips lunch overlooking the Palace Pier outside Captain's Fish and Chips store in Brighton on March 25, 2022.  British fish and chip shops weathered the storm.
The terraces of Brighton, in the south of England, is a mecca for fish and chips. (AFP)

A fish and chips owner in Lancashire, in the northwest of England, has raised prices by 50p (0.58 euros), a serving is now 8.50 pounds (10 euros). The fish has become more expensive, he said, because some British boats have stopped fishing “because of the price of fuel”: “It’s not worth it.” He also mentions the planned return of VAT, reduced to 12.5% ​​during the pandemic, to 20% in April. Before the war in Ukraine, he believed that of the approximately 10,000 fish and chip shops in the UK, about 3,000 were at risk of extinction in the next five years. “It will probably happen in the next six months,” he says.

Burgers have replaced white fish

Pam hopes that her reputation and product quality will help her get through the crisis. She did not raise her prices, but “look what others are doing.” She also does not want to lose customers because of too high prices. Round hamburger buns replaced the missing white fish in his refrigerators. On his menu, hot dogs, hamburgers and sausage rolls are cheaper than fish and chips.

On her deck overlooking the ocean, Sharon Patterson, a loyal shopper visiting with her octogenarian mother, says she doesn’t want to give up the dish: “Prices are going up but we have to support our local merchants and as long as I can I will come and eat fish and chips as often as possible. Because that’s how I grew up and it’s part of my culture.

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