Has The Nations Favourite Meal Finally Had Its Chips?

In April, a news story broke in the tabloids and mainstream media that caused outrage throughout the fish and chip industry. In true British fighting spirit, Fish and Chips most eloquent and passionate Ambassadors came out in support of the Nations most trustworthy meal to defend it’s standing and reputation…

The NPD Group, Inc. is a market research company that operates in 20 countries, interviews 12 million consumers a year, and monitors consumer purchase data from over 165,000 stores. Their data and analysis are considered the most reliable and used by the biggest and most successful brands in developing strategies for future growth.

Fish and Chips has been an important and familiar part of every British high street for more than a century and a half, but according to new information from The NPD Group, Britain’s fish and chip shops are facing an uncertain future. Visits are in decline in sharp contrast to other quick-service restaurants (QSR) which are attracting more traffic than ever before.

Citing figures from Britain’s eating-out foodservice market (known as out-of-home or OOH), the NPD Group says QSR outlets serving fast-food recorded 5.9 billion visits as of year-end (YE) February 2017, up 9.2% since 2009. While fish and chip shops are part of the £21.5 billion burgeoning QSR channel, they are missing out on that growth. There were 327 million visits to fish and chips for YE February 2017, down 4.4% over the past eight years. This means fish and chip shops are trailing the expansion of Britain’s wider QSR market by nearly 14 percentage points. Fish and chips now only represent 5.6% of total QSR, compared to 6.4% for YE February 2009.

It’s not all bad news for Britain’s fish and chip shops. The NPD also say that consumers really like the food they offer. More than one in three (36%) people say they visit fish and chip shops for the quality of the food but for QSR outlets generally quality is a lower motivation at one in four visits (24%).

Millennials see Fish and Chips as out of touch

Millennials – those in the 18 to 34 age group – are happy to eat in QSR outlets and account for 30% of QSR visits but they appear to see fish and chips as out-of-touch and only contribute around 15% of the visits to a local chippy.

According to the data, fish and chip shops worst criticism was aimed at the operators themselves and were described as having little appetite for profit. In the wider QSR market, the price per item was up by 7.5% between 2009 and 2017 but for fish and chips the increases over those eight years shrink to just 2.6%. There are weaknesses around lunchtime business and meal deals too. QSR outlets generally attract more than 35% of their daily visits at lunchtime, but for fish and chips it’s 24%.

Some fish and chip shops are closed at lunchtime in any case and for those that are open the portions offered are often too big for lunch and packaging can make it difficult to bring this kind of food back to the office or to eat in a public space such as a park.

Cyril Lavenant, Foodservice Director UK at the NPD Group commented that “the nation’s fish and chip operators must adapt to changing trends if they want a slice of that success. When was the last time you saw an exciting meal promotion at your local fish and chip shop that matches the kind of thing you see when you buy a burger or fried chicken? Fish and chip shops need to build on their reputation for quality, bring in the lunchtime traffic, and match the big quick-service competitors with lively meal deals. Eating on the premises is another area in which fish and chips outlets are missing out. Growing QSR businesses have seating and offer coffee, tea, soft drinks and desserts so it’s no surprise that one in three (29%) people going to a high-street fast-food outlet sit down for their meal. This is nearly five times higher than for fish and chip shops (6%), which seldom offer an enjoyable on-premise meal experience.”

As a fast food professional who has often described myself as having “batter in my veins”, I was moved emotionally to see how the industry came together to tackle the way this report was presented to the public by the media. I believe with all my heart that it was absolutely vital and correct to balance the story with all the positives about our culinary institution and will always take this stance because of what a robust, affordable and important part of the UK diet and economy Fish and Chips has become. The opposite side of the coin though is that this Data is reliable and there are lessons to learn from it and opportunities to grab hold of too. At the wrong end of this industry, there are shops that are struggling and existing in the economic landscape described by NPD.

Most operators in the fish and chip trade are independent owners who either don’t have the expertise or the budget to develop marketing campaigns that compare or compete with the corporate branding of rival QSR outlets. They’re often afraid to protect their margins too when it comes to price in fear of losing the market share they currently enjoy. In fact recent debates on social media have even explored the idea of standardizing portion sizes so that pricing and customer expectations can be managed better. A great idea but only a few hundred - not 10,000 are listening.

Trade suppliers to Fish and Chip shops are doing an awesome job. They’re constantly innovating packaging and tirelessly creating new marketing ideas for Chippy owners to get on board with but the real issues highlighted by this report require a new type of action plan in my opinion. It involves accepting and recognizing that change is already happening – not only with consumers expectations (just look at what McDonalds is saying in this issue) but also in where and how fish and chips needs to embrace change. Several months ago, before the NPD group report had even been written, I was an invited guest at the BFFF (British Frozen Food Federation) awards luncheon at the Park Lane Hilton and I had an epiphany. I saw the solution that day already in place and working in another sector to all the challenges facing the fish and chip industry. Facing the challenges means the co-ordination and sharing of expertise, improved communication and assisting evolution – NOT LARGE SUMS OF MONEY.

Since that day I have seen two futures for Fish and Chips in my dreams. One that ends well and one that doesn’t. I’ve shared both dreams with many friends in the trade since and they all agree that the good dream is possible and the bad dream is likely.

One day, hopefully the right people will listen. If you want to know what I think needs to happen, join me at www.ffpforum.com and let me know your thoughts too.

Mark Petrou


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