Cost of living crisis: Portsmouth fish and chip shops feel sting of 'ridiculous' prices as 'a third' are mooted to close in the UK

SOARING prices are causing a crippling burden for fish and chip shops in and around Portsmouth.

Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 5:00 am

Rising costs for fish and sunflower oil, the recent hike in VAT, and customer hesitancy, have all led to chippies feeling the sting.

Many owners have reported weekly price fluctuations.

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Bill Isherwood, owner of the award winning Bill's Chippy, in Mill Road, Waterlooville, said he is trying not to make too many changes to his menu despite soaring costs. Picture: Sarah Standing (170522-7401).

The National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF) have mooted a third of businesses could close nationally.

Greg Leighton, who runs 1st Quay Fish and Chips in London Road, Widley, Waterlooville, described it as a constant ‘weekly battle’.

He told The News: ‘Fish and oil prices are just ridiculous, both being up roughly 150 per cent from last year.

‘Most of our regulars are elderly and are watching what they’re spending.

Kem Ebsim, the owner of Master Fryer, in London Road, North End, said the uncertainty over how often costs will go up is a major worry. Picture: Freddie Webb.

‘As a business, were are always trying to keep our costs down by offering deals.

‘We’ve only recently put up our prices, but thinking about what could happen is a worry.’

Mr Leighton said they have tried to adapt by pushing fishcakes, sausages, mushy peas and curry sauce – which have higher profit margins.

He added the business he has to ‘take a hit’ on fish, despite price rises.

Tony Coppola, the owner of Excell Fish Bar, in London Road, Hilsea, said he is troubled by the cost of living crisis, despite his business continuing to do well. Picture: Freddie Webb.

Even considering challenges during Covid-19 lockdowns, and a potato shortage which saw ‘prices go through the roof’, Mr Leighton said there is more uncertainty than ever.

He said: ‘We are more scared now than we were during the pandemic.

‘When we got hit by Covid, it was a worry, but the prices were stable.

‘It is just the uncertainty of it all.

Mr Isherwood said changing oil regularly is essential to producing high quality fish and chips, so cannot afford to buy less of it despite soaring costs. Picture: Sarah Standing (170522-7371).

‘If people are looking to cut their spending, restaurants and takeaways are the first on the list.’

Mr Leighton added the April rise in VAT, from 12.5 to 20 per cent, alongside the expenses, was ‘a big bang for all small businesses’.

The owner fears those that do not increase prices will shut.

He added: ‘They’ll try and swallow the hit, but it will only go one way.

‘Some owners will throw in the towel.’

Kem Ebsim, the owner of Master Fryer, in London Road, North End, has similar concerns.

The cost of living crisis is in full swing, with the material prices of fish and oil rising to levels not seen by chippie owners. It has been reported that one in three chippies may close nationally across the UK, according to the National Federation of Fish Fryers (NFFF). Pictured is: Greg Leighton, owner of 1st Quay Fish & Chips in London Road, Widley, Waterlooville. Picture: Sarah Standing (170522-7435).

His footfall has dropped despite trying to keep his prices competitive.

Mr Ebsim said: ‘My regulars joke with me that they have to go to the bank just to have fish and chips.

‘I sometimes feel guilty about of the prices, but I have to put them up because of rising costs.

‘If it carries on for a long time, I’ll lose customers and have to shut down.’

Mr Ebsim added his oil and fish costs have risen by at least 100 per cent, and they are rising quickly.

He said he’s seen people coming into the shop counting the coins in their hands, and thinks the situation is getting worse.

The owner added: ‘Honestly, it is so worrying.

‘My supplier told me their prices will go up again, without any warning or preparation.

‘I’m paying more than I did last week, and I don’t know what it will be the week after that.’

Chippies, such as Excell Fish Bar, in London Road, Hilsea, which opened in 1982, are trying desperately not to pass the financial burden to customers.

Second-generation owner, Tony Coppola, said: ‘I’ve had to make £1 increases, but I can’t put it all on customers.

‘I’ve been here a long time, so we’re busy enough at the moment, demand is still high.

‘Even though we’ve been absolutely choker block, everything is troubled due to prices.’

The 58-year-old said the price of 25 litres of sunflower oil cost between £35 to £40 at last Christmas – now, it is £51.

His three case box of cod has gone up from £140 in December, to £210.

Mr Coppola said: ‘In 40 years of business, I have never seen it like this.

‘I feel sorry for all the new small businesses just starting off.’

The NFFF have reported that 50 per cent of oil used by fish and chip shops comes from Ukraine.

Prices of alternatives have been hiked due to surging demand.

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Other essentials, including flour, for batter mixes, are also affected.

Up to 40 per cent of Britain’s cod and haddock supplies come from Russia, with sanctions making North Sea supplies scarcer and pricier.

Rana Denholm, co-owner of Whistler’s Fish and Chips, in Westbourne, said they are pushing alternatives such as hake.

She told The News: ‘We’re looking for items with equal levels of quality that have not suffered dramatic increases.

‘We’re constantly phoning around to find the best deals, we can’t do the usual order every week without batting an eyelid.’

Ms Denholm added the government should be doing more to support local businesses, such as lowering VAT back to 12.5 per cent.

She explained: ‘Utility costs are horrendous at the moment, along with the fish and oil.

‘With all of those things compounded, the government needs to do a lot more to support small businesses, especially if they want us to stay open.

‘We just won’t survive otherwise.’

Bill Isherwood, who runs the award winning Bill’s Chippy, in Mill Road, Waterlooville, said sales are steady.

He does not want to cut back on the amount of oil he uses, or make menu changes, despite the financial conundrum.

He said: ‘You might as well shut up the shop if you have to cut back on quality, so I only use cod and haddock.

‘Customers will know, and you will get a bad reputation.’

The owner said his regulars have been ‘telling him off’ for not increasing his prices sooner.

He assumes large fishing companies being opportunistic and making excessive profits.

Mr Isherwood said: ‘The people I deal with buy it directly from the fish companies, and they said it’s down to them.

‘They can’t keep rising the prices, because other shops will go bust.

‘We’re finding it harder all the time, and I am concerned about it.’

Mr Leighton said he is more concerned about his business now than during the pandemic. Pictured is: Greg Leighton, owner of 1st Quay Fish & Chips in London Road, Widley, Waterlooville. Picture: Sarah Standing (170522-7420).
Rana Denholm, co-owner of Whistler's Fish and Chip shop, said the government must do more to support local hospitality businesses, that are struggling in the current financial climate. Picture: Sarah Standing (230419-6954).