They have been a familiar part of every British high street for at least a century, but according to new information from global information company The NPD Group, Britain’s fish and chip shops are facing an uncertain future. They are losing visits while other quick-service restaurants (QSR) 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. 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 like to do better than batter
But fish and chip shops are not taking on the growing range of eating-out options on Britain’s high streets. 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.
Fish and chip shops have 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. Nearly three out of ten QSR visits involve special deals and promotions that attract customers seeking the best value for money but this figure drops to one in 14 for fish and chip shops.
Cyril Lavenant, Foodservice Director UK at the NPD Group, said: “With the exception of two types of quick-service food – fish and chips as well as ‘ethnic’ takeaways such as kebabs – all of the quick service channels in Britain have managed to grow since the 2008/2009 recession because they have transformed their business. The British foodservice market could be worth more than £57 billion by the end of 2018 and attracting 11.5 billion visits each year. But 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.”
Sit down on the high street
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.
Cyril Lavenant added: “How often can you sit down to eat your fish and chips in a pleasant environment and order a drink or dessert? Here’s another reason why customers are trickling away. Eating out is a crowded marketplace with exciting new approaches to food. But the fish and chips world just doesn’t seem to get it. Millennials are certainly unimpressed and probably see fish and chips as old fashioned. How long can this decline last? Our traditional fish and chip shops are in real danger of one day disappearing from the British high street.”