Consumers are not the only ones making cutbacks as shops turn their attention to portion size to keep fish an affordable option
Sharp rises in the price of fish over the last 12 months have seen many shops experience a drop in respective sales as customers begin to question what they can and can’t afford. Some shops in the north of England, for example, have reported a staggering 50% reduction.
While there is some good news in that the price of haddock has started to stabilise, cod still remains high and, until we get a more accurate picture of what demand will look like across this year, it is hard to predict which way prices will go.
Having said that, even if prices were to fall back to pre-2022 levels, the cost of living crisis is still putting a squeeze on consumers, as are rising energy prices on businesses. It means shops are unlikely to drop their prices any sooner than consumers will start to relax the purse strings.
As much as shops are happy to sell sausages and pies, it’s fish and chips that is above the door. To keep it both affordable and profitable, many are addressing portion control – either reducing sizes or adding a smaller portion to give customers a more wallet-friendly option.
At Yan’s Fish & Chips in Cardiff, owner Steve Muscat has focussed on smaller portions, taking his regular 8oz cod down to 7oz and pricing it at £6.35. By reducing the size, he has been able to add a new item to the menu by utilising the 1oz off-cuts for cod bites. Serving three to a portion at £3.85, it’s pure profit.
“The cod bites have become a success,” says Steve. “It means our fish sales haven’t dropped and we are getting cod bites out of it as well on the menu.”
Yan’s is also serving slimmed-down versions of its scampi, with 10 pieces in a portion instead of 12. Again, it’s profits in the till, with every fifth portion sold now a bonus.
There has been no kick-back from customers since introducing the changes, with Steve adding: “I think people are more interested in price than portion size. I believe cutting back on portion size is the way forward.”
Also feeling the pinch is Costas Christou, owner of The Chippy in Dartford, Kent, who says he’s never experienced anything like this in his 30 years in the trade.
“Prices are constantly rising and we are trying to play catch-up all the time to the detriment of our clients, as we have no choice but to pass the costs on to them as rising costs have been passed on to us,” he says.
To help cushion this inflationary rise, rather than reduce the size of its fish, The Chippy has added a smaller 4oz portion to the menu, bundled it in with a 6-7oz portion of chips and put it on the menu for £5. It gives choices and means he retains both his high-spending customers and those that might otherwise have forgone their chippy tea.
“We can only ride this period and hope that prices stabilise and even begin to come down,” he adds.
Adamant about keeping its products affordable for customers too, Royal Fisheries in Whitby has launched a ‘Light Bites’ menu featuring slightly smaller fish dishes with a side, a smaller portion of chips and a pot of tea – all of course with a smaller price tag.
Owner Adrian Fusco, comments: “The menu includes premium cod goujons, fishcakes and scampi, it has proved very popular and we have noticed customers are making return visits for this particular menu.”
Royal Fisheries has also expanded its “value” offer, which it launched in March last year with a fish butty, to include a fishcake, chips and a side. Adrian comments: “We wanted to show that it doesn’t always have to be ‘fish and chips’ and we noticed an increase in the sales at lunchtime instantly.
“We are big believers that a smaller portion of high quality fish at a lower price point is the best course of action for us. Our customers don’t need to spend too much to buy their favourite foods, we keep our customers coming back to us and maintain hours for our staff team. It is a good strategy for us.”
When Murray Morrison, owner of Garioch Fish Bar in Inverurie found his standard size 7/8oz haddock fillets were going up and up, rather than pass the cost on to his customers, he took a different tact. He switched to a smaller size cod that was not only cheaper but gave a better yield with 15 additional fillets per stone. He cuts these into goujons, offers six strips along with a portion of chips and markets it as the same weight of fish but half the price at £4.95. “It’s still a big eat and has been well received,” says Murray.
He has also focused on volume by working with local care homes where he can be cooking up to 50 fish suppers every Friday. “Instead of just increasing prices we have bucked the trend and gone the other way. Customers appreciate your efforts to help,” he says.
For operators looking to add smaller portions or reducing their current sizes, it is important to bear in mind it will only work if quality remains high. Customers will not accept lower quality, even if it does come at a lower price.
One final word of advice comes from Mark Drummond, owner of Towngate Fisheries in Idle, Bradford, where fish and chip sales represent over 85% of turnover.
He encourages shops to take a holistic approach to the figures, adding: “Our gross margin has been lower in the last year due to the cost of fish (and other commodities) increasing by more than our selling price, but the increase in selling price has meant the “profit per meal sold” (an important metric many don’t ever consider) to be the same or higher meaning we have remained equally profitable overall despite the lower margin.”