Fish and chip shops facing 'colossal' costs amid war in Ukraine
- Credit: Denise Bradley/Supplied by Sadie Cawston/Matthew Usher
Is there anything more quintessentially north Norfolk than fish and chips by the seaside?
Maybe not - but locals and holidaymakers might have to pay more for the experience this year, as fish and chip shop owners from Cromer to Wells warn over the 'colossal' costs facing the industry.
Surging prices have caused the ‘worst crisis’ in the trade’s history, according to national reports, with a squeeze on the demand for both fish and oil, as well as general inflation.
The conflict in Ukraine has seen prices of sunflower oil, which is used in deep fat fryers, pushed higher, with the wartorn nation and Russia producing more than 50pc of the globe's sunflower seeds.
Adding to these challenges is a 35pc tariff on Russian fish imports announced by the government last week.
Alan Stevenson, 48, who owns Stevenson's Cafe and Fish Bar in Sheringham, said: "The cost of fish and oil is colossal, it's unreal."
His shop's fish comes from both Russia and Iceland, but over the last 12 months the price of a box of cod has increased by £50.
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This time last year, he was paying around £160 for a box of 50 fish. Now he pays £210.
Mr Stevenson said that one of his suppliers had no fish in stock this week, as fuel increases mean trawlers will not return to port until they are full.
The next danger is that with no fish coming from Russia, and chippies now getting all their fish from Nordic waters, there might be no fish left at all, he said.
Oil, meanwhile, has doubled in price, from £10 a block to £24.
"All this has a knock-on effect. You have to put the prices up," he said.
Since they reopened at the February half-term, the price of fish in the shop has gone up by £2.
"To be honest, not many people have complained. There was one family who had four cod and chips and they said, 'How much?'"
Despite all the concerns, the shop is still busy.
"The town is heaving," he said.
Restaurant manager Sadie Cawston said: "I'd just like to say sorry to our customers that we've had to put the prices up, but there's not much we can do.
"Otherwise we'd go bankrupt," she added.
Galton Blackiston, who owns No 1 Cromer, said: "The war in Ukraine has made things tougher.
"Fish and oil are in shorter supply. We are not affected in that we don't buy fish from Russia. Ours come from Nordic waters, but the prices have escalated massively.
"It's one of those things where we're going to have to swallow it and not pass the rising costs over to our customers," he said.
Mr Blackiston said the shop always puts up its prices in April.
"But to put them up in line with the rising cost of everything at the moment we'd have to put it up quite substantially," he added.
He said that this year's increase will "not reflect the actual rising costs of products".
"We just have to tighten our belts in everything we do. I can't keep putting prices up, it's just not feasible.
"Fish and chips is a commodity that's accessible to every family of every income and it must always remain that way.
"But because of the volume of business we do in our restaurants, it might make us a little bit more fortunate," he said.
Price rises mean, however, that the business will not be able to increase wages for staff.
"It's a scary and horrible situation to be going through," Mr Blackiston said.
Hospitality is also braced for VAT to return to 20pc from 12.5pc, with some fish and chip shop owners hoping that the treasury will delay the increase to keep some pressure off.
Marcus French, who owns French's by The Quay in Wells, said he has seen the price for a case of cod increase by at least £40, with more than 40pc of the fish caught by Russia.
That has demand increase on his suppliers in Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, increasing prices.
“It is all a challenge at the moment. Members of staff are hard to get, oil prices are going up - it is a perfect storm, everything is so difficult to get right now,” he said.
“Thankfully, Wells is popular and we have a lot of families here, and hopefully we will be okay, but I can see some fish and chips shops will not make it through the next 18 months because they won’t make enough to get through the winter to carry on.”