Hartlepool, England – When it opened in 2020, business was booming in Chunks, a store serving dozens of portions of Britain’s most popular takeout food every day: fried with beaten and deep-fried cod, or chips.
But before the war in Ukraine pushed the store bills further for fuel, fish and cooking oil, inflation had already forced the owners, Seward and Michael Lewis, to raise their prices twice.
Now, with another price hike pushing consumers away, segments are on the verge of failure.
“We may not be able to do that by the end of the month,” said Mrs Lewis, sitting behind a store in Hartlepool, a port city in the north-east of England where her husband, Michael, grew up.
The battle in Ukraine is, Mrs. Lewis added, “the straw that broke the camel’s back” – and not just for the piece, but probably for the thousands of other fish-and-chips shops above and below the country.
The war, which has devastated Ukrainian cities and killed thousands of people, has put further pressure on a sector in Britain that is already battling epidemic-related inflation. Gas and electricity prices have risen. Cod prices have risen since countries announced plans to ban or fine Russian fish imports, lowering North Sea supplies and making prices more expensive.
Ukraine and Russia are major producers of sunflower oil, which is used by many fish and chips stores and is running out. Even potatoes will become more expensive, as rising gas prices push up the price of fertilizer.
“My industry has been directly affected by the Ukraine issue because all four of our main ingredients are directly affected, and we use many of them,” said Andrew Crook, president of the National Federation of Fish Fryers, citing fish, oil and flour. (For butter) and potatoes.
As a result, Britain is likely to lose 3,000 of its estimated 10,000 fish-and-chips stores, according to Mr Crook, who described the situation as the industry’s biggest crisis since such stores first opened in the 1860s.
More than 150 years later, at least one store – or “chip” – can be found in most cities of any size, churning out a cheap takeout meal that inspired the British proverb “cheap as chips”.
To add to the depression, and high prices, the government recently ended a reduction in sales tax on takeout foods that it applied as an epidemic measure.
When the Lewis opened the pieces, they caught a fish-and-chips business a safe bet. After all, it’s a product that was considered so important to morale that it was never rationed during World War II – a culinary combination that Winston Churchill described as a “good companion.”
But as inflation cuts their incomes, some of their customers have reacted to increased prices with anger or even abuse, while others have stayed away. Even the cost of making spicy peas has increased, a thin green side dish. After the last price increase, sales of Chunks fell 1,000 pounds, or about $ 1,300, in one week.
“I think things that are happening externally are going to stop us now 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. Keep coming
Shortly afterwards, things got worse for Peter Wigram, who, after a quarter of a century, recently closed his shop and laid off two workers.
Mr Wegram said he felt sick when he closed his shop, The Chippewa, concluding that he could no longer make a living. He still hopes that the price of fish will be reduced enough for his reopening.
“I’m climbing the wall now – I’ve never been unemployed in my life,” he said in his empty store.
Within two weeks, the price of a box of cod he bought had risen from 1 141 to পা 185, when his gas and electricity bills nearly doubled, meaning he had to raise his price from £ 5.60 to about £ 9 for his single serving. Break evenly.
“People around here wouldn’t pay for it,” he said.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments
Russia is preparing for a new attack. Ukraine is preparing for a Russian attack on its eastern front, where Ukrainian officials have warned civilians living in the region that the time to flee is running out. But the road to safety is in jeopardy, with Ukrainian civilians reportedly killed while trying to flee.
A few miles south, in the seaside town of Redcar, Nicola Atkinson is determined that her shop, Sibridge, will survive, but she too is feeling the pinch.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years – I have never seen anything like it,” he said, explaining how he had raised prices for the fourth time since the beginning of last year.
“How do you explain this to customers?” He asked. “People don’t have disposable income, so what will they do? Will they come less? We can’t afford to raise prices because we’re going to run at a loss, and then we won’t be here tomorrow. But there is a cap on what people can spend. “
Some consumers in the north-east of England still find fish and chips more expensive.
“It’s a British main thing,” said El Japson, a nail technician who frequently cuts. “Who doesn’t eat fish and chips?”
But in Redcar, David Bell was less transparent. “Two pounds fifty for a bag of chips? You can buy a sack of potatoes for that. “
Throughout their long history, fish-and-chips stores have been expected to be cheaper, but they must compete with chains whose initial offers – burgers, fried chicken and pizza – are usually less expensive than fish.
“Prices are already at record highs, rising by 5 to 10 percent every week,” said Mr Crook, of the Federation of Fish Fryers. Britain buys relatively few fish from Russia – and has threatened to impose significant tariffs on them – but Mr Crook says US sanctions on Russian fish imports have increased competition for supplies from Iceland and Norway, which rely on fish and chip shops.
Mr Crook drove a chip to Uxton, Lancashire, where his last supply of Ukrainian sunflower oil was stacked at the front. When it runs out, he can choose palm oil, but other food producers are also seeking supplies, raising prices.
While Mr. Crook is confident that he will be able to survive financially, he is sure that many other store owners will not. And he said Britain would lose more than takeout food if thousands of nearby chips disappeared.
“A fish-and-chip store has some theater, it’s like being behind a bar,” Mr Crook said. “I have customers who just come to chat and for some older people, we’re probably the only people we talk to all day.”
He added, “It’s something special, it’s part of the nation’s culture.”