Julie Waites, executive director at Frozen at Sea Fillets Association (FASFA) sheds some light on current rise in fish prices and fall in availability
In the last 10 years, frozen at sea (FAS) cod and haddock prices have been increasing in line with inflation. From 2013 to 2015, we regularly saw FAS cod fillets at £4.00/kg, in 2016 to 2018 on average £5.00/kg and in 2019 to 2020 £6.25/kg. However, in 2021 prices rose from £7-£8.00/kg for skinless and boneless FAS cod fillets. And this year, it is very hard to predict where the price could go.
When the prices increased rapidly this year, it was a cumulation of factors that, unfortunately, have all come at once. As we know fuel costs have escalated like we have never seen before, this affects both the fishing vessels and cargo transport, and EU Exit brought increases in admin costs among many businesses. Quota agreements and total allowable catch reduced by 20% this year, all adding to the mix. Our FAS vessels strive to be fuel efficient, most are now hybrid, along with developments on shore to reduce carbon emissions and reduce energy costs.
Demand for FAS cod and haddock fillets is as strong as ever; partly brought on by people taking stay-at-home holidays. Along with the consistency of FAS, no waste and high quality are favourable among our foodservice outlets.
There is always a seasonal effect on the size of cod. In summer and early autumn, the predominant size is small to medium, so fillets under 16oz. Large fish start to be more prevalent as it gets into the colder months. The difference in 2021 was that due to the year class of haddock being very small, demand for cod increased, and businesses started switching, meaning changes in availability are felt quicker and sharper than in normal years.
We saw a shortfall in large sizes of cod +32oz fillets, and shops who traditionally used this size moved to 16–32oz. The vessels were still catching and producing, and product is available, though at a lesser ratio to the small/medium size. Prices increased on 16oz fillets as a result of this.
We have seen fish and chip portion sizes in many shops increase throughout the years and now sustaining that is proving difficult. I think consumers like different options when it comes to portion sizes. We should give them the opportunity to choose a portion size to suit them and this will also ensure there is no waste and less pressure on fillet sizes. This would help the consumer purchase a healthier option whilst still enjoying the nation’s iconic dish.
Focus on value not price, but also offer a range of price points, and be specific with customers about what you’re offering them and why they should remain loyal to you.
However, we are in unprecedented times with so many uncertainties and factors out of our control that can unfortunately continue to push prices up. The effects of the Russian conflict could potentially change our food and non-food landscape for the foreseeable future. But I really hope we can gain some normality in the world soon.