Margins down the pan as chip shops pay more for potatoes: Wet harvest puts premium on choice main-crop varieties

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The Independent Online
FISH AND CHIP shops around the country are suffering from squeezed margins because of the soaring price of potatoes.

Richard Richardson, a director of Harry Ramsden's, the quoted fish and chip restaurant group, said prices always rose in spring and early summer as supplies of main or winter crop potatoes started to run out. However, the problem this year has been exacerbated by a wet harvest.

Prices of main crop potatoes are pounds 163.08 a tonne, according to the Potato Marketing Board. A year ago, following a bumper crop, the price was pounds 60 a tonne.

Heavy rain last October meant potatoes were dug out of the ground and put into storage wet. They have not lasted as well as dry potatoes, and those that have stayed in good condition are commanding premium prices.

Varieties such as Maris Piper are in particular demand by chip shops, but are running out fast. New potatoes arriving from Egypt, Cyprus and Jersey are of no use for frying and the UK varieties of Estima and Wilja, which were specially developed to fill the gap until the main crop is ready, are not available in quantity until August.

'Quality is still there if you are prepared to pay for it,' Mr Richardson said. 'We don't compromise on quality.'

In a business reliant on fresh fish and fresh potatoes - chipped on site - seasonal price swings are part of life, he said. Price increases are not being passed on to customers.

Supermarkets too have felt the squeeze. Tesco is paying twice as much as it usually does for main crop potatoes, but insists that it is not passing the full increase on to consumers.

(Photograph omitted)