With it looking inevitable that the price of frozen at sea fillets will rise this year, fish and chip shop operators could be well-placed to plan for the increases now
It’s a familiar story now, fish prices are on the increase. And that’s despite good weather in January meaning catches have actually been pretty favourable - in fact most suppliers are reporting increased volumes for cod and haddock compared to the same month last year. However, prices it seems in January were far higher than the average for the whole of 2017.
Pushing up prices is the increased global demand for fish as we all continue to eat more, in particular China which is seeing a 20% rise in consumption. What’s more, with demand for H&G (headed and gutted) increasing, more vessels are moving over to this format, putting pressure on the availability of frozen at sea fillets.
So, short of putting up prices, what can fish and chip shop operators do? Craig Maw, owner of Kingfisher Fish & Chips in Plymouth, recommends shops anticipate the price increase now and start making plans, something he’s doing by looking at the viability of pushing the lesser-known species of fish he has on the menu.
While Craig knows these won’t be huge sellers he’s hoping it will help take the pressure off his flagship species while creating awareness of other fish varieties. “I think it will be a challenge to sway people, they are normally programmed to choose cod or haddock, but we’re looking at promoting MSC saith a bit more,” explains Craig. “We already have it on the menu, but we’re thinking about putting it on as a special.”
Marketed at a price point lower than Kingfisher’s cod and chips and giving away goujon samples to waiting customers is how Craig plans to win people over. “Saith is a member of the cod family so it fillets exactly the same way and fries exactly the same way. I know it’s going to be hard as it’s not as brilliant white as cod or haddock can be, but it’s actually a beautiful fish and with your eyes closed you’ll be hard pushed to notice the difference.”
Another shop owner who has seen prices increase is Nigel Hodgson of Hodgson’s Chippy in Lancaster. He too advises operators to prepare now and recommends friers focus on their supply and also their prep, starting with sourcing a good FAS vessel whose quality you are very happy with. “Sometimes a block of fish may be a few pounds more expensive, yet you may get a better yield from this,” Nigel explains. He also recommends keeping a check on the yield daily whilst preparing the fish to ensure consistent quantity and keeping knives sharp to maximise the yield.
Nigel also advocates introducing a “Lighter-Bite” mini fish meal which will give more profit and help to reduce the volume of fish being bought. “We sell a Mini-Fish meal, which includes half a fish, a half portion of chips plus a side of the customer’s choice for £3.75,” Nigel explains. “A regular fish, chips and side is charged out at £6.35, therefore we are making £7.50 instead of the usual £6.35.”
While Simon Walsh, owner of Tynemouth-based Longsands, is yet to experience a price rise, saying his prices have remained pretty consistent over the past year, he says one option available to friers is to bulk buy their fish. This means friers can budget their prices and retain that price for those months that prices are high. “I know some suppliers are more than happy to hold onto the fish for you if you pay for it upfront. They’ve made their money and the fish is sold, while you’re guaranteed a stable price,” Simon adds.
And, finally, don’t overlook the possibility of using fresh fish. It’s not always as expensive as people might think, something Garry Rosser, owner of The Scallop Shell in Bath, often finds. He comments: “I’m buying fresh hake at about £6-7 a kilo right now, which is cheaper than what I’m paying for frozen cod, and it’s an absolutely beautiful fish. It’s times like these we should remember we are an island and we have over 40 different species of fish to choose from. Frozen isn’t the only choice.”
If the latest Skippers Catch report from M&J Seafood is anything to go by this could be a viable option for some as it predicts good availability for fresh cod and haddock over the next two to three months due to improved weather and Norway having a strong fishing fleet. It anticipates prices could even ease, however, it warns the cod catch size will be on a larger side which means better price reductions will be on the larger portions.
And, of course, make sure your prices reflect what you’re putting out, with Garry reminding friers: “It’s not just the price of fish that’s rising, all our costs are. So, providing we don’t compromise on quality, we should be pricing fish and chips accordingly. People won’t pay a premium price for rubbish, but they will pay a premium price for quality.”
CREATE A BUZZ WITH SALMON & DILL FISHCAKES
Over the last few years, customers have become savvier and more educated about the food they eat. Words like local, homemade, seasonal and sustainable have become the norm in the foodservice industry.
Nigel Hodgson, owner of Hodgson’s Chippy in Lancaster, comments: “We can engage with our customers simply by using these “food movement buzzwords” on the specials board or a “landings board” if it’s solely for fish. This is also a great way to help distinguish your brand and demonstrate to your customers that you have additional cooking skills to that of fish frying, but also that you are aware of what fish, vegetables or herbs are in season and you have the ability to use them.”
A great way of introducing seasonal ingredients to the specials board, says Nigel, is to make your own fish cakes. “One of my most favoured fish cakes on the specials board is salmon and dill. Not only are these great to advertise when the salmon is fresh and in season, but you can also boast its low-fat and rich Omega-3 content.”
Below is Nigel’s recipe for the salmon and dill fish cake, which typically costs between 25-32p to make.
500g potato flake
250g fresh red salmon
250g haddock or cod
4 tsp tomato ketchup
2 tsp English mustard
2 heaped tbsp chopped parsley
2 heaped tbsp chopped dill
2 eggs beaten
Ground black pepper
• Mix the potato flake mix with water to create a “tacky” crumb mixture.
• Finely chop the haddock or cod and the salmon before adding to the crumb mixture.
• Add in the chopped parsley and dill, then 1 teaspoon of sea salt and 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper.
• Add the tomato ketchup, followed by the English mustard and mix thoroughly to create a “tacky” mixture. Add more water/potato flake if required.
• Portion the mixture using weighing scales, an ice-cream scoop or a 4oz pea-cup.
• Mould into shape using a burger press.
• Place on a tray and freeze.
• Once frozen, flour, egg wash and breadcrumb and re-freeze.
• Cooking from frozen typically takes six minutes at 160°C.