Spring is a time when many chefs look to increase the amount of fish and seafood served on the menus. It’s versatile, popular, and often perceived by customers as a healthier choice, as well as a lighter option when the weather is warmer. It also offers a point of difference for the eating out sector, simply because relatively few consumers prepare and cook fresh fish from scratch at home these days.
This year, though, operators may be in for a shock when they talk to suppliers about sourcing more fish and seafood for spring and summer menus. While food inflation is an increasing challenge across the board, fish is currently proving to be a particular challenge.
The official inflation figures released by the Office for National Statistics for March 2017 showed an 8.8 per cent year-on-year increase in the inflation rate for fish overall, with fresh and chilled fish up by 16.8 per cent year-on-year rate.
There are a number of factors at work in driving up the price of fish. Many species of farmed fish are produced outside the EU and traded in dollars, so the fall in the value of sterling over the past year has had an impact. Many ‘value added’ products such as marinated or coated fish are produced outside the UK and so have also seen prices increase.
Beyond that, there is rising demand for fish globally, and there have been well-publicised challenge with specific species, such as salmon. Even when such problems are resolved, the time needed for young fish to grow to the size required by chefs means that there is a lag before supply catches up with demand.
As always, though, there are also opportunities for chefs who are able to take a flexible approach. Price is driven by demand and so the most popular species of fish are likely to cost more when supplies are under pressure. The ‘big five’ species – cod, haddock, tuna, salmon and prawns – account for between 60% and 75% of all seafood eaten in the UK.
By varying the mix, operators can make the most of other fish species, particularly those caught in UK waters, by featuring them on the menu when quality, availability and price are at their best. Currently, the UK exports around 75 per cent of the fish and seafood we farm and catch, while at the same time as we import huge quantities of species such as prawns and tuna which are not native to British waters.
The majority of exports, around 66 per cent, go to the EU, where delights such as Devon crab, Cornish mackerel and Scottish langoustine are far more valued for their flavour and quality than in Britain.
With the UK fishing industry a key part of the EU exit negotiations, there are clearly huge benefits if consumers can be persuaded to enjoy more of the host of species caught by the British fishing fleet – as well as helping operators to manage costs, it helps to promote sustainability by reducing reliance on a small number of species. At this time of year, fish such as brill, dabs, dover sole, megrim and witch are in good supply, as are native shellfish including lobster and scallops as well as crab.
Ways chefs can help persuade conservative customer to enjoy a wider range of species include:
- Offer a special seafood menu or a daily seafood special, including starter and sandwich options;
- Consider introducing a dedicated night of the week focusing on seafood dishes;
- Offer a promotion such as a seafood platter and glass of wine for a set price;
- Include description of the flavour and texture of different species on menus to encourage customers to try them;
- Capitalise on the popularity of spicy flavours with dishes such as fish curry and Thai fishcakes;
- Make seafood an ingredient in popular dishes such as risotto and pies.
For chefs working with unfamiliar fish, it’s important to understand yields when planning dishes and calculating margins:
- Anything from 20% up to 60% or more can be lost when filleting, depending on the fish species, so the when buying a whole fish by weight, the yield will be lower than the weight of the fish. Talk to your supplier about the amount you can realistically expect to sell when ordering different fish.
- Unless you have the skills in the kitchen, it may make more sense to pay a premium for your fish supplier to prepare fillets, and know that all the fish being purchased can be sold to customers.
- The trim from a fish fillet is still high quality protein that can be used to make dishes such as fish pie or fishcakes, which are always popular menu choices. By working with your fish supplier to make then most of these ‘extras’ you get the maximum yield
To help manage margins, The Lynx Purchasing GP Calculator App, is available FREE to download for Apple and Android devices.
The App is the first digital product endorsed by the Craft Guild of Chefs. Lynx Purchasing is a Craft Guild Business Partner, and works with more than 2,200 hospitality and catering operators to match them with the best suppliers and get the best possible prices on food and drink, as well as a whole range of essential products and services. Lynx’s buying experts help operators buy better and save time and money, year after year.
For an update on the pricing and availability for fish and seafood in the foodservice market, look out for the Summer 2017 edition of the Lynx Purchasing Market Forecast, which will be available to download FREE from early in June, on our website at www.lynxpurchasing.co.uk