Predicting what 2024 will bring is challenging, not least with the prospect of a general election looming, but here are some trends we anticipate affecting the fish and chip shop market over the course of the next 12 months
Market prices are high for the time of year, in the range of £12-£16 per 25kg depending on quality. The current prices are down to a perceived shortage in supply, compounded by growers drip feeding potatoes onto the market.
Stuart Mitchell, MD at potato merchant Mitchells Potatoes, comments: “Demand for potatoes in the fish and chip sector is poor at best. Most merchants are reporting reduced sales on a shop by shop basis, typically a 20% drop on 2021-22 season. We are attributing this to a number of factors but mainly lack of consumer demand, the dramatically increased price of fish and chips and portion control. The fresh chipping sector is less than 10% of the UK potato market so it’s hard to say how much a drop in demand affects the spot price of potatoes.”
Stuart warns that quality will be difficult for the next six months due to wet harvesting conditions, resulting in prices remaining firm. “It is estimated that in North West Europe roughly 3% of the potential crop remains in the ground. This will hopefully be harvested in March if weather conditions allow, but will not be fit for most sectors of the potato market. The total harvested crop to date in North West Europe we estimate to be at 22.9 million tonnes, this is up from 21.7 million tonnes last season, an increase of 6%. Combine this with greater crop utilisation and lacklustre demand brings us to the conclusion that if the 2024 new crop is planted on time and in good conditions then prices will not reach the highs of last season. We expect spot prices to remain around the same level until March 2024 and whether they shoot higher after that remains to be seen.”
Prices from July through to December will be dictated by weather conditions through the period. If the sun shines and the rain pours when it should then prices will come back to a more affordable level. “Seeds supplies are short though so expect a range of £10-£15 not £6-£12 per 25kg,” adds Stuart.
AI WILL FIND ITS PLACE
Whether overtly or covertly, the use of AI will be enormous in the year ahead, creating greater levels of personalisation and improving the customer experience. Whether that’s facially-recognising a customer as they walk through the door, or enabling them to pay by face for a slicker, more professional experience.
Peter Moore, CEO at software company Lolly, believes that where the sector continues to struggle to find good staff, AI will help to bridge the gap. “Whether making existing staff more efficient, through age verification tools and integrated data insights, AI tools will help to manage business better – reducing wastage and increasing efficiencies.”
RECRUITMENT VIA LOYALTY
Recruitment remains challenging, with the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics showing almost a million unfilled vacancies in the UK right now. So it’s obvious that retaining employees is vital to growth. Small regular shows of appreciation beyond the pay packet in 2024 are the key, says Love2Shop, which recommends employee discount schemes as one solution. It offers cards that employees pre-load with funds at a 7.5% discount. So for example, you load £92.50 but employees have £100 to spend at more than 140 partner retailers.
FATS & OILS
One of the key current and future trends in the edible oils industry is the global increase in biodiesel.
New policies that require a percentage of fuel oils containing renewable biofuel are pushing the price of some oil commodities up, especially the value of soya oil.
Gary Lewis, chief commercial officer at KTC Edibles and NEODA president, comments: “In particular, that’s being driven by America which is the largest biofuel producer in the world – but to satisfy that demand, it has to import soya beans from Argentina and rape seed oil from Canada. Meanwhile, in the EU, 55-60% of all rapeseed oil is used for biodiesel.”
Prices in 2024 and 2025 are going to be heavily affected by a raft of incoming legislation, in particular MOSH MOAH regulation halfway through 2024. Gary explains: “The legislation is aimed at reducing Mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) and Mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) in the food supply chain. These regulations are going to add extra costs to palm and coconut oil producers and suppliers which will be passed on up the supply chain.
“The EU Deforestation Regulation (EU DR) will also impact the soy and palm oil industries when it comes into effect on December 30th 2024. The aim of the EU DR is to reduce the EU’s impact on deforestation and cut carbon emissions by at least 32 million metric tonnes.
“As part of this, the EU is banning the use of palm oil in biodiesel – which means replacing the 3.5 million tonnes of palm oil currently used as biofuel with an alternative oil, likely to be rape or soya. Therefore, the EU’s demand for homegrown crops will rocket.
“To meet this, EU countries will have to plant 10 million tonnes of rapeseed to offset the palm oil that’s being taken out – or buy it in. But to do that, they’d need to buy the equivalent of 100% of Australia and Ukraine’s crop!
“As we saw with the war in Ukraine, when you take an impact in one of the major oil crops, it has a massive knock-on effect throughout the market. And we’re likely to see that again with palm oil thanks to the deforestation regulations.”
Alongside the biodiesel vs fuel debate and the incoming regulations, global weather patterns continue to dominate the oil market. And the weather hasn’t been kind.
Heatwaves, droughts and floods exacerbated by El Nino caused widespread problems with crop yields in South America and Europe during 2023, and the impact is expected to hit Malaysia and Indonesia in 2024.
The Argentinian soya crop was devastated early this year, as it produced 50% less than expected due to poor weather. They’re now planting and it looks like Argentina will recover, but on the flip side, Brazil will likely have a poor crop. Poor weather has also impacted Canadian and Australian rapeseed crops.
In Europe, Ukraine suffered from a poor crop of rapeseed. And thanks to an exceptionally wet late summer and autumn, many producers are two months late in planting next year’s crop.
The market can adapt to these conditions – but to do so, it needs to adapt its biodiesel regulations so more focus is given towards the food industry.
While Gary hints that forecasts suggest stable prices for the first half of the year, the second half may be a different story, adding: “We’ll likely see prices surge due to the incoming new regulations. These regulations will likely have far-reaching impacts across the market, triggering price escalations.”
GREATER INVESTMENT IN LOYALTY SCHEMES
Key to success in 2024 is recognising how to build and maintain loyalty in a more meaningful way. While consumers still love a loyalty scheme – McDonald’s has plans to expand its loyalty program from 150 million to 250 million users by 2027 – traditional loyalty programmes no longer have the influence they once did. Already we have seen the biggest supermarkets adjust their loyalty programmes so, rather than focusing on accumulating points, think about offering instant discounts and freebies.
A CONTINUED FOCUS ON SUSTAINABILITY
Sustainability will remain firmly on the agenda, and we’ll see a continued focus around energy and carbon consumption both from the technology providers, but also in the products being consumed. The past year has been a difficult storm for many to weather. However, the slowdown in the economy vastly supports the need for greater technology adoption.
The demand for plant-based alternatives looks set to continue in 2024, however, rather than driven by mock meats, the market looks set to turn to foods made with “real” plants as consumers seek out products that resemble “the real thing” in taste, texture and appearance. Expect a return to dishes made from actual vegetables, pulses, nuts, and seeds.
Maybe not for everyone but it’s an interesting one all the same – online foodie website Great British Chefs has identified a growing trend for fin-to-gill dining where chefs are using less common parts of the fish on menus, such as fish tails, fish collars and prawn heads!
RISE IN ROBOTICS
As service-based robots become more functional and cost effective, it won’t be unusual to see them in restaurant environments before the end of 2024. They will continue to be trolley-based for the foreseeable future, taking plates back to an automated dishwasher, for example. Their form and function will carry on improving.
They are also likely to help hospitality providers meet the skills gap and labour shortages which may worsen in 2024 if the new immigration rules come into place. Lolly’s Peter Moore has stuck his neck out and said that while walking and fully-interacting robots are still two to three years away, we will see restaurants of the future being built with robots running the front-of-house.
While we know consumers are dining out less, operators can offer something special by way of affordable yet exciting treats with the addition of luxurious ingredients. Think truffle oil drizzled over fries, says potato supplier Aviko.
Consumers increasingly want to taste the region they are visiting. Therefore, traditional foods from local shores and lands that can be bought directly from farmers, fishermen and suppliers will do well to earn a place on your menu this year and stand you out.