'Cheap as Chips' no longer true in the UK as prices soar for a favorite meal

HARTLEPOOL, England — When it opened in 2020, business was booming at Chunks, a store serving dozens of servings of Britain’s best-known...

HARTLEPOOL, England — When it opened in 2020, business was booming at Chunks, a store serving dozens of servings of Britain’s best-known takeaway meal every day: breaded and fried cod with chips, or chips as they are called here.

But even before the war in Ukraine drove up the store’s bills for energy, fish and cooking oil even further, inflation had already forced the owners, Sayward and Michael Lewis, to double their prices. occasions.

Now, with another price spike driving customers away, Chunks is on the verge of failing.

“We may not be able to hold out until the end of the month,” said Ms Lewis, sitting in the back of the store in Hartlepool, a port town in northeast England where her husband, Michael, grew up.

The fighting in Ukraine is, Ms Lewis added, “the straw that broke the camel’s back” – and not just for Chunks, but possibly for thousands of other fish and chip shops across the country.

The war, which has devastated Ukrainian towns and killed thousands, has increased pressure in Britain on a sector already struggling with pandemic-related inflation. Gas and electricity prices have skyrocketed. The price of cod rose after countries announced plans to ban or penalize imports of Russian fish, making North Sea supplies scarcer and more expensive.

Ukraine and Russia are big producers of sunflower oil, used by many fish and chips, and it is running out. And even potatoes are bound to become more expensive, as rising gas prices drive up the cost of fertilizers.

“My industry is directly affected by the Ukrainian problem because our four main ingredients are directly affected, and we use a lot of them,” said Andrew Crook, president of the National Federation of Fish Fryers, referring to fish, oil, flour. (for the dough) and potatoes.

As a result, Britain stands to lose perhaps up to 3,000 of its roughly 10,000 fish and chip shops, according to Mr Crook, who describes the situation as the industry’s biggest crisis since the opening of these stores in the 1860s.

More than 150 years later, at least one store – or “chippy” – can be found in most cities of all sizes, offering a cheap takeaway meal that inspired the British idiom “cheap as chips”.

No more.

To add to the gloom and rising prices, the government recently ended a reduced rate of sales tax on takeaways that it had applied as a pandemic measure.

When the Lewises opened Chunks, they assumed a fish and chip business was a safe bet. After all, it was a product deemed so important to morale that it was never rationed during World War II – a culinary combination that Winston Churchill called “good companions”.

But as inflation squeezes their income, some of their customers have reacted to the price increases with anger or even abuse, while others have stayed away. Costs have even increased for making mashed peas, a gooey green side dish. After the last price hike, sales of Chunks fell 1,000 pounds, or about $1,300, in one week.

“I feel like the things happening outside are now going to stop us because it’s out of our control: the only thing we can do is raise prices but people won’t pay “said Mr Lewis, who returned to his old job as an electrical inspector to continue earning money.

A short drive away, things are even worse for Peter Weegram, who after a quarter of a century recently closed his store and laid off two employees.

Mr Weegram said he felt ill when he closed his shop, The Chippy, concluding he could no longer earn a living. He still hopes fish prices will drop enough to allow him to reopen.

“I’m climbing walls now – I’ve never been out of work in my life,” he said from his empty shop.

Within two weeks, the cost of the cans of cod he bought rose from £141 to £185, while his gas and electricity bill almost doubled, meaning he would have had to raise his prices to a single serving at around £9 vs £5.60 just to break even.

“People here wouldn’t have paid for it,” he said, adding that fish and chips “used to be a cheap meal and now it will eventually become a luxury.”

A few miles south in the seaside town of Redcar, Nicola Atkinson is determined that her store, Seabreeze, will survive, but she’s also feeling the pinch.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years – I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said, explaining how she raised prices for the fourth time since the start of last year.

“How do you keep explaining this to customers? ” she asked. “People don’t have the disposable income, so what are they going to do? Will they come less? We can’t afford not to raise prices because we would be running at a loss and we wouldn’t be there for tomorrow. But there is a cap on what people can afford to spend.

Some customers in the North East of England still think the fish and chips are worth the higher price.

“It’s a British staple,” said El Jepson, a nail technician who frequents Chunks. “Who doesn’t eat fish and chips?

But at Redcar, David Bell was less optimistic. “Two pounds fifty for a bag of crisps?” You could buy a bag of potatoes for this.

A staple of working-class life throughout their long history, fish and chip shops should be cheap, but must compete with chains whose main offerings – burgers, fried chicken and pizza – are generally cheaper than fish .

“Prices are already at an all-time high, rising between 5 and 10 per cent every week,” said Mr Crook, of the fish fryers’ federation. Britain buys relatively little fish from Russia – and has threatened to add steep tariffs on it – but Mr Crook said a US ban on imports of Russian fish had increased competition for supplies from Iceland and Norway, on which fish and chip shops depend. on.

Mr Crook operates a chippy in Euxton in Lancashire where his last supplies of Ukrainian sunflower oil are stacked up front. When that runs out, he may opt for palm oil, but other food producers are also looking for supplies, driving up prices.

While Mr Crook is confident he can survive financially, he is sure many other shop owners will not. And he said Britain would lose more than takeaways if thousands of neighborhood fries went missing.

“There’s a bit of theater in a fish and chips, it’s a bit like being behind a bar,” Mr Crook said. “I have clients who just come in for a joke and for some older people we may be the only people they talk to all day.”

He added: “It’s something special, it’s part of the culture of the nation.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: 'Cheap as Chips' no longer true in the UK as prices soar for a favorite meal
'Cheap as Chips' no longer true in the UK as prices soar for a favorite meal
Newsrust - US Top News
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