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Up to half of the industry now open

Updated: Apr 27, 2020

It’s estimated that between 40-50% of the fish and chip shop market is now trading, up from around just 10% several weeks ago.

When the government announced the coronavirus lockdown on 23rd March, the vast majority of fish and chip shops shut their doors. But as the weeks have passed and shops have had time to evaluate ways to operate safely within government guidelines, takeaways have began reopening, with the biggest surge seen this week.

Mike Crees, MD at fish and chips wholesaler T.Quality, comments: “We normally deal with about 5,500 to 6,000 accounts and I believe there is about 35-40% up and running, probably nearer 40%. For us delivering, we’re seeing that rise in the last three weeks between 300 and 400 shops per week.”

Mike believes that while the furlough scheme has been a huge help for businesses in terms of covering staffing costs, other bills mounting up may have forced shops to reconsider their options.

“A lot needed to reopen and those that thought wisely realised that if they could get in front of this curve they would have a business that would thrive and strengthen going forward,” he says.

“As an industry, we’ve never been very good at home delivery but I think this has made people become good at delivery, and this home delivery opportunity isn’t suddenly going to go away when the government relaxes social distancing, which is looking like it’s here for another six months at least.”

T.Quality has noticed a distinct change in the sales mix as shops adapt their menus to suit delivery. Paper sales have dropped in favour of boxes, pie, curry and gravy sales have all fallen while scampi and chicken nuggets have seen a surge in demand. “We’re also seeing a lot of questions about what are the best batters for fish and chips to travel in,” Mike adds.

Fish merchants are seeing a similar upward trend in terms of shops placing orders. Bobby Joyce, national sales manager at frozen at sea fish supplier Smales, comments: “A lot of shops had already stocked up for Easter so some have been using that, but we’re definitely getting more orders. I would guess two weeks ago the industry was 10-15% open, it’s now nearer 40% and I would expect in the next week or so we’ll be gearing up for 70% to be open and active in some way.”

Stuart Mitchell, director of potato merchant Mitchell Potatoes, is slightly more optimistic, delivering to around 50% of its accounts. Stuart comments: “We went down to about 10% initially but we’re back up to about 50%. We’ve actually delivered double the volume this week compared to last week and we expect more shops to open, perhaps another 20% next week, another 20% the following week, until it’s pretty much fully operational in three weeks.

“The key is for shops to prepare themselves with screens and protocols to make sure they can operate safely for both their staff and customers because we’re going to be in this situation for 18 months, unfortunately.”

The latest shops to announce a come-back include FishnChickn, Churchill's and Bankers, which have reopened 33 stores across the South East of England for click and collect and delivery. Chez Fred in Bournemouth has teamed up with a local taxi company to offer deliveries within a three-mile radius of the shop starting next week, and Papa’s is opening its sites in Bilton, Cleethorpes and Willerby as of today with a contactless collection service whereby food is delivered directly to customers' cars.

Kingfisher Fish & Chips in Plymouth, Devon, had its first day of trading yesterday following a four-week closure. Owners Craig Maw and Nikki Mutton are working the takeaway with pre-booked slots available for click and collect.

Craig comments: “The thought process for us reopening was what’s going to be different in the next three months to now? There’s not going to be much change I don’t think. Okay in a couple of weeks time the government might lift restrictions but essentially people’s actions are going to be very much the same.

“So we really wanted to try and get the wheels turning a little bit again. Also, we had a lot of customers asking if we were open, and we were itching to get open, we’re workers, not shirkers, and we felt we could do it safely because me and Nikki are from the same household.”

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