Call me old-fashioned and a tad unadventurous if you will, but I am rather quite partial to the long-established delights of fish and chips. A moist and slightly sweet tasting cod fillet in light but crunchy batter, with some nicely seasoned thick-cut chips, minty mushy peas and chunky tartare sauce – delightful! One of the things about go-to products though, is that they become something of a KVI – a Known Value Item. Using data from MCA’s recently upgraded Menu Tracker tool, it is interesting to have a quick look at how much prices do in fact vary on this classic dish. And for good measure, I could not resist having a look at recent consumer research to see how the popularity of fish and chips with consumers is changing.

Mind the price gap in London

The Menu Tracker tracks prices and product ranges at over 150 fast food, pub and restaurant chains across the UK. Within this assortment, 28 mainly pub restaurant brands, offered fish and chips on their spring/summer menus. The dearest place to go is Angus Steakhouse, where it costs £15.95 for a taste of this Great British staple. And if they wanted mushy peas with that, well then it rises to £17.95, and for those minded to tip – that’s no change out of £20. Staying in London, the dearest pub chain is Nicholson’s, but for £15.75, at least I am getting rather better value with a mix of hand-battered cod fillets and breaded wholetail Whitby scampi served with tartare sauce, mushy peas and chips.

At the other end of the price spectrum (I was going to say ‘value spectrum’ but that would be wrong) is Wetherspoon. Here for a highly competitively priced £4.60, I can get a small fish and chips, complete with peas. And if I wanted to take a friend (rather than double up myself), two of us could share a pair of dishes for £8.39, working out at an even more beguiling £4.20. Tempted as I am to check out how small is ’small’, I need to add the important caveat that these prices are very much part of Wetherspoon’s fondness for local and regional price differentiation, and allowing individual pub managers some local pricing autonomy. So, while £4.60 might be available in the Midlands and North of England, in London I would need to pay £5.40 (+17%) for the privilege.

Being fairer, and I suspect more comparable, to Angus and Nicholson’s, Wetherspoon also offer a larger, Freshly battered fish and chips. This costs £7.30 in the Midlands and the North, £8.30 in the South and a princely £9.65 in London. That is a far more hefty 32% premium to the not so grim prices up North.

Across the whole UK market and covering all dish sizes, the average price of fish and chips comes out at £10.70. Running comparable data for spring/summer 2018 generates an average price of £10.35, suggesting annual menu inflation of 3.4% – a not insignificant increase set against more general restaurant market price inflation of closer to half this.

Consumer demand not what it was

Looking at the incidence of fish and chip meals there is certainly some evidence of diminishing consumer appeal. At lunch, fish and chips now account for the order of 5% of out-of-home meals and 6% of dinners over the year ended July 2019. Looking at previous annual data for the year ended July 2017, the comparatives were higher at 6% and 8% respectively. Despite my own valiant efforts, consumer demand is weakening and maybe this supports the case for higher than average dish price rises. A move back up North is looking more tempting.