The Taste of a Nation; the Story of Great British Fish & Chips

The Taste of a Nation; the Story of Great British Fish & Chips

Whether with a side of the quintessential mushy peas, the traditional tomato ketchup or the often controversial curry sauce, fish & chips has long been a staple of British cuisine for as long as almost any of us can remember.

For generations, whether it was the Friday night weekly takeaway, or the obligatory meal on a trip to the seaside, we’ve long had a special place in our hearts for the dish. Its popularity is such that it is one of the few staples of British gastronomy that even crosses the social divide.

Originating from humble beginnings around 1860, fish & chips is today a £1.2 billion industry with more than 382 million servings, on average, sold per year.

The industry is undoubtedly the driver of consumption for white fish in the UK, with cod being the most popular, making up to 62% of fish sold. The fish are mostly caught in the clear, icy Arctic waters of the North Atlantic and neighbouring waters by Russian, Norwegian and Icelandic fishing companies.

Norebo is one such company, that operates in the region. Being one of Russia’s largest fishing businesses, Norebo is vertically integrated along the seafood supply chain. The global presence of Norebo allows it to have full oversight from catch to distribution, as well as meeting the ever increasing demand for traceability and sustainability of the fish supplies.

A prominent player in the industry, Norebo supplies large parts of its hauls to many European countries, with its customers supplying several household names including Birdseye and McDonald’s, as well as supermarkets including Tesco. In fact, around 15% of all the cod that is consumed in the UK is caught by Norebo’s fleets.

Of this, a great majority goes to fish & chip shops up and down the country. However, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on demand, and even supply to an extent, has been close to catastrophic for the restaurant industry. Indeed, the implementation of lockdowns and social distancing measures has resulted in a dramatic fall in customer footfall.

However, when the chippies are literally down, it appears the Brits turn to their trusty favourites to see them through, as sales of fish & chips boomed during lockdown. According to data from online delivery platform Foodhub, sales of fish & chips have risen by 208% in the year since the country went into lockdown in March 2020, making it the number one takeaway food of choice, with one in five survey responders admitting to have ordered the British staple as their last takeaway meal on the night before ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19th.

Foodhub spokesperson, Philip Mostyn, said: “For many of us, takeaways have provided us small moments of joy and a break from the monotony we’re all experiencing in lockdown. It’s interesting to see how, as a nation, we’re turning to the old favourites and seeking comfort in familiar nostalgic foods, such as Fish & Chips.”

This is a remarkable comeback for an industry that only a year ago saw more than 80% of the nearly 10,500 fish & chip shops around the country shut their doors, and the return to business, even at reduced capacity, has had a positive knock-on effect for suppliers and sellers alike.

Another driver for the pick-up in demand for fish & chips, is the rising popularity of staycations. The continued restrictions on international travel have resulted in complicated and often expensive bureaucratic red tape. As a result, more people have opted to holiday at home than ever before and rediscover the beauty of the UK.

Cornwall tops the list of destinations, with 24% of holidaymakers traveling to the southern county this summer. But Devon, Scotland, the Sussex, Kent and Norfolk coasts are among the most popular destinations of choice, and all have one thing in common, the great British seaside.

The British coast boasts world-class seafood cuisine coupled with the scenic countryside, and the rising popularity of staycations provides the escapism people have been looking for to relieve the monotony of lockdown. This comes with the additional benefit of supporting local businesses that have faced a double blow from Brexit and the pandemic.

Such is the demand for fish & chips, the Times columnist Caitlin Moran last month wrote about her recent holiday experience waiting in line for more than two hours to buy lunch. It’s a scene replicated up and down the country, where waiting an hour or more in socially distanced queues meandering down narrow cobbled streets has become the norm.

And it looks as if the staycations are here to stay for the next few years at least. Inquiries into holidays in the UK for the summer of 2022, are up by 74% as families face continuing uncertainty in the face of rising cases. Financial services website Square has released data that suggests 45% of Brits are planning another staycation next year. And if the British love of fish & chips remains as strong as it is, once the post-pandemic need for nostalgia and comfort wears off, then the industry stands to be one of the few positive outcomes of the pandemic.