As temperatures rise and we head to the seaside this summer, what better treat than fish & chips (with lots of salt & vinegar) enjoyed on the beach, as the waves break on the pebbles and the sun sets. Mmmm…you can just taste them now can’t you? But if that vision hasn’t already made you run straight to your nearest chippie, you might be interested to know a little about the history of the Great British fish & chips. Currently the Federation of Fish Fryers estimates there are in the region of 10,500 specialist fish & chip shops in the UK, more than McDonalds or KFC. They are predominately independent, with some obvious exceptions such as Harry Ramsden’s, and serve hungry punters around 167 million portions of fish & chips every year. That’s six servings for every man, woman and child! In fact, our annual spend on fish & chips in the UK is in the region of a staggering £1.2 billion, with 80% of people visiting fish & chip shops at least once a year and 22% every week (possibly not the healthiest of consumers), while 56% of people buy fish and chips to eat in the home as a family.
But what are the origins of the quintessentially British dish that has managed to capture the nation’s hearts? Well, the origins are hotly contested, dating back to the 1860’s when both the Malin family of London and the Lee’s of Mossley, near Manchester, claim to have come up with the perfect pairing of deep fried battered fish and delicious fluffy chips. But fried potato chips and fried fish date back far earlier, with the potato chip most likely to have originated in Belgium and fried fish introduced to London by Jewish immigrants from Portugal and Spain. From the 1870’s fish & chips spread rapidly, offering a hot nutritious meal for factory and mill workers. With the arrival of mechanisation and trawl fishing in the North Sea, fish was widely available and fed the growing demand for fish & chips. By 1910 there were estimated to be around 25,000 fish & chips shops around the country, peaking at 35,000 by 1927. During both World Wars fish & chips was reprieved from rationing with it being too important to the nation’s diet and morale and Prime Minister Winston Churchill was believed to have referred to fish & chips as “Good Companions”.
These days things have changed with the old tradition of using newspaper to wrap fish & chips being deemed as unhygienic and so came to an end in the 1980’s. Whilst with the increased competition and breadth of cuisines available, as well as the drive for healthy eating, the number of fish & chips shops has seen a drop from their 20th century hay day, that said, it is still a hugely popular dish. Fish& chips from chip shops use 10% of the UK’s potato crop, 30% of all white fish sold in the UK and the industry generates a turnover of around £1.2 billion every year. Cod is the most popular choice accounting for 62% of fish sold in fish & chip shops, followed by haddock at 25%. The reach of fish & chips extends far further than the high street chippie, as pubs and restaurants across the country feature this family favourite on menus, so much so, MCA Insight cite it as the 3rd most popular lunch dish and 4th most popular dinner dish when eating out*. Throw into the equation the market for fish & chips in retail grocery and you can see the appetite for fish & chips in the UK is still very much alive!
This summer we have been privileged to work with Sarson’s, the UK’s #1 Malt Vinegar, and I’m sure you’ll agree, the perfect partner for chip shop fish & chips. In fact, independent consumer research has shown that 9 out of 10 of us would prefer our fish & chips sprinkled with Sarson’s rather than the cheaper alternative often used in fish & chip shops known as Non Brewed Condiment^ (the definition of which is a vinegar substitute created with water, acetic acid, flavourings and often caramel colour – delicious!). So next time you’re in your local chippie look out for the ‘Proud to Serve Sarson’s’ sticker and poster and if you don’t see them, direct them to www.SwitchToSarsons.co.uk to find out why they should switch!
Source: Industry stats quoted from Federation of Fish Fryers, *MCA Insight & ^Toluna Research 300 consumers June 2019