Fish and chip shops are being told to brace themselves for continued increases in potato prices as the prolonged heatwave sees farmers’ yields fall by 50%.
The warm weather and lack of rain have devastated crops in some parts of the UK, pushing new season’s accords and maris bards to between £11-11.50 a bag. And prices look set to rise further as the Met Office issues a Level 3 Heatwave warning with temperatures staying in the 30C for most of the week.
Philip Williams of William’s Potatoes in Exeter, Devon, says: “I’ve not seen it this bad for years. Fish and chip shops are in for a shock. The dry weather is really affecting crops. Whereas farmers are normally getting 15 tonnes to the acre, now it’s only about 8 tonnes, so they are 50% down.”
“A lot of the potatoes that are coming through are also small in size so everyone is taking the good stuff, which is pushing up prices.
“The second earlies, which should be ready in about two to three weeks’ time, look worse than ever.”
Williams has brought forward availability of a different variety of potato to give friers greater choice. Philip explains: “We’re supplying some shops with a variety called Daisy. It’s a fantastic chipping potato from Cambridge, but again it is expensive at around £11.50 a bag. It’s one we usually have available later in the year though, we’ve never used it this early on in the year before.”
Wrexham-based potato merchant Peter Gwyn & Sons has been in the business for 27 years and says its the worst situation it has seen for a long time. Harvey Jones comments: “Since starting on the new season's potatoes prices have gone up 40-50%. They’ve gone up again today £20 a tonne on the farms.
“Because of all the dry weather, farmers are getting about half the yield they would do usually, so they are getting through the crops pretty quickly and the price just isn’t dropping. Some farmers can irrigate their crops but there are a lot that can’t, they rely purely on the rain, so those ones are struggling. The farmers that do irrigate and have good size and quality potatoes want more money for them.
“It’s going to a be tough season and high prices will last a while. I don’t think chip shops realise how bad it is. Some farms have not had rain for several months now. I’m not sure at this stage if we’ll have a shortage of potatoes, it really depends how much rain we have for the later crops, but prices will be pretty firm until the end of the year.”
Fish and chip shop owners across the UK are beginning to feel the impact of sustained high prices. Nigel Hodgson, who owns Hodgson’s Chippy in Lancaster, Lancashire, comments: “By the end of the season we’re normally paying a premium for quality old potatoes and, traditionally, after a week on the new season’s, prices fall from around £9 to £4 a bag, but that’s just not the case this time, the price has stayed the same.”
It’s not only the cost of this staple ingredient that’s taking its toll, however, the size of potatoes available is also an issue. Nigel adds: “Availability at the moment is okay, the main downside is we’re getting a lot of small potatoes. We average about 33-40 portions of chips per bag of potatoes, but they’re that small we’re maybe getting 27-30 portions. This is all happening at a time when we should be making our biggest profits.”
Nigel is helping himself by rumbling the potatoes for a shorter time and ordering stock little and often. He comments: “I’m telling the boys to take the eyes out but leave some of the skin on as I find it falls off when the chips are fried anyway. It helps a little bit. I’m not over ordering either as the potatoes just get sweaty and deteriorate and I’ll lose even more yield.”
Friers are also being urged to look at portion control and introduce a lite bite, which can offer more revenue for a smaller portion.