Home » Features » Chips & Potatoes » BIG INTERVIEW: PUSHING FORWARD

Geoff Whitehead, owner of multi award-winning Whiteheads Fish and Chips in Hornsea, East Yorkshire, talks about his motivation for implementing sustainable business practices while sharing some of his ideas 

What does sustainability mean in the fish and chip industry?  

People immediately think about where fish is caught. Is it a source which will be around in the future or will overfishing mean ever-dwindling catches of the whitefish at the heart of Britain’s favourite takeaway?

The continuous supply of the finest consistent quality MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified sustainable source whitefish is vital. Nothing demonstrated that more than winning Fish and Chip Takeaway of the Year in 2023 when the increased footfall was beyond our wildest dreams. Demand for haddock and cod (and potatoes) went sky-high. The availability of consistent quality fish and potatoes in response to rocketing demand was testimony to the superb and sustainable service received from all our suppliers. Frozen-at-sea suppliers Xpressfish and Smales have long-standing relationships with Icelandic and Norwegian fishing companies, supplying top quality haddock and cod from MSC certified sources.

Are you MSC certified? 

Yes, Whiteheads became the first fish and chip shop in East Yorkshire to hold MSC certification so that our haddock and cod is fully traceable from net to table. I work closely with MSC on seafood sourcing, and MSC commercial manager Loren Hiller says that by choosing haddock and cod with the blue MSC certified source eco label, customers know their serving has come from a well-managed, sustainable fishery that cares about the health of the oceans.

What about your potatoes that you mentioned?

Our potatoes are supplied by an East Yorkshire farmer just 10 minutes from our door; probably the lowest food miles of any chip shop spuds in Britain.

We are passionate about sustainable supplies of the finest fish and Yorkshire potatoes and sustainability is key throughout the business. 

What makes a business sustainable?

What makes a business sustainable is a massive list starting with a vision. When my late mum Hazel and I started frying in 1997, top of our list was to serve the finest quality fish and chips available. Twenty-seven years on, we maintain the same traditional values, even though costs have risen considerably.

On a very tight budget, we needed to persuade customers to switch from well-established competitors. We had a strong mindset and enormous energy, but that was not enough to make the business sustainable and we were struggling until – three years on – we created a seating area for customers to enjoy Whiteheads fish and chips whatever the weather. That is when we realised we’d taken the first steps along a road that would totally transform our business plan.

So you are flexible in your business plan?

Absolutely. We never stop learning. Whilst keeping our core values, we’ve adapted to constant – sometimes rapid – change. We foresaw a future with increasing numbers of loyal customers eating in so when the post office next door came up for sale Hazel and I revised our business plan to include a purpose-designed 70-seat restaurant.

Energy, rates, wages and ingredient costs were increasing so that if menu prices had to increase in line, customers would only eat-in at a comfortable, well-appointed restaurant where the food was of the finest quality. Our existing takeaway range could also fry for the restaurant, keeping control on the budget. We launched a wide choice of gluten free menu items seven days a week, prepared in a new separate kitchen, and the new restaurant opened to huge acclaim.

Almost overnight the combination of restaurant and takeaway set us on a more sustainable road. Instead of a high summer footfall and a trickle for the rest of the year, the restaurant attracted a regular community of customers; families and couples with a higher disposable income.

What do you mean by a “regular community of customers”?

We were seeing more returning customers engaging with their servers, who really enjoy meeting people as part of their job.

Relationship building is good, sustainable business practice. Several years earlier we’d built a website and begun using social media. Engaging with each customer on social media is another way of building relationships; caring about individual customers and in both the restaurant and takeaway the atmosphere reflects customers being part of “their” Whiteheads Fish and Chips.

What about your staff?

Staff are the backbone of our business and we attract and retain a very good team throughout the year. Our staff bonus scheme means everyone shares in Whiteheads’ success. Each member of staff plays their part; contributing ideas and feedback at staff meetings. Currently, we have a first aid training day where staff will also be shown how to operate a defibrillator we’ve installed, instigated by a national campaign by our MP Stuart Graham.

What are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint?

During Covid, we introduced deliveries in Hornsea and a 12-mile radius so our fish and chips could be enjoyed by loyal customers without interruption. Post-Covid, we made this permanent, with deliveries by eco-friendly electric vehicles.

 With rising energy costs proving unsustainable, we have installed solar panels, saving 30% on electricity costs over summer with a ROI over five years, incidentally powering our own delivery vehicle and electric forklift truck.

We aim for a no-waste business. Used rapeseed oil and packaging cardboard are recycled. Food waste has reduced by 15% since introducing the hugely popular all day special – a 5oz fish, chips, peas or beans.

You were recognised for your efforts when you won the Environment & Sustainability Award at this year’s National Fish & Chip Awards. How did that feel?

That was amazing. We can’t ignore the pace of change and environmental challenges we face. Whiteheads Fish and Chips has to be sustainable and thrive so future generations can enjoy the freshly-cooked Whiteheads taste.

A huge acknowledgement

On winning the Environment & Sustainability Award at this year’s National Fish & Chip Award, Victoria Braathen, UK director of the Norwegian Seafood Council, sponsor of the category, said: “Being named UK’s most sustainable fish and chip shop is a huge acknowledgement and we are deeply impressed by Whiteheads’ commitment to pushing the industry forward. Sustainability and responsible practices have never been more important and it’s inspiring to see growing awareness from so many businesses and their customers.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Basket