Written by Andrew Crook, NFFF President – This article is taken from the Fish Friers Review – Quarterly Issue 1
I have used this title as I was once sent an article by Arthur Parrington that he had written for the FFR many years ago to capture the history of the NFFF. I wonder if the founders back in 1913 realised what they were starting and how important it would be to help support the industry in good times and bad. It has had its troubles over the years’ but it has come through them all and is now more relevant to the industry than ever, with fantastic lines of communication to represent fish and chips in the media and with Government.
I won’t go into the history of the NFFF here, but we will link to the original story written by Arthur in the magazine and on FishFriersReview.co.uk. I would like to use this article to explain how I came to join in the industry and the NFFF. I have been talking to Vicky Webster at Captain Cod this morning and I said that often people don’t find a career in fish and chips it kind of finds you. Our family story in fish and chips started at a fish and chip shop on Friargate, in Preston. I used to meet my Gran there with my Mum and have some lunch. My Gran had worked in fish and chip shops before and my Mum was looking to find a business as I was at school. She said to the owner of this shop that she would be interested in buying it if they ever wanted to sell, and as it happens it was on the market. That was back in 1994 and we took over the same week that McDonald’s opened in the town further down the street!
My parents had owned a restaurant before but never a fish and chip shop, and this one had seating too. The shop had been a fish and chip shop since the 1880s and the building dated back to the 1600s, so its wasn’t exactly purpose built. The range was from 1955 (we found a coin set in the floor underneath) and they didn’t even have a fridge, so food safety was not exactly up to scratch. They were naive when they bought it to be honest, and keen to learn more my Dad went to join the NFFF via their Preston Branch, one of 26 that existed in the North West before we went to direct membership. Unbeknown to my Dad a customer from the Preston Branch Presidents shop had been in our shop and my Mum had innocently said that they don’t sell cod as it can have worms in it.. this customer told the other shop they were not buying fish off them due to it having worms and they only sold cod so when they asked to join, they were blackballed. Now obviously my Mum was daft for saying it but rather than thinking these guys need help and by helping them we are helping each other they were just not allowed to join. The culture in the industry needed to change and, my Dad not being one to give up, eventually got to join the NFFF years later in the late 1990s. I joined the businesses in 1999 after finishing my degree in computing and immediately started to support my Dad in the NFFF.
I think in the early days I was more interested in the money than the job and improving if I am completely honest, and I think if it hadn’t been for the NFFF and the people I met, it may have stayed that way. I think John Wild was probably the first person I met in the industry when he owned Chihan and Cem Oktem’s shop, the Packet Bridge. It was great meeting another frier who was open to allowing others in his shop, and once you realise there are others and you can share your problems then it opens a whole new dimension to working in the industry. I remember Gregg Howard saying to me that when he attended his first NFFF meeting he realised that he was not alone and there were others that had the same challenges, the same unsociable hours, and the same outlook on life. My advice to anybody who isn’t involved in the wider industry to do it as there is nothing else like it.
The industry and the NFFF are unrecognisable now to what they were when I first joined. This is down to the people in it, both operators and suppliers. The awards, industry events and exhibitions have all combined to change the culture, create friendships and drive us forward. Fred Capel, upon winning his Outstanding Achievement Award, said from the stage that some of his best friends are in the industry and that is so true for me too.
Together we are stronger
The NFFF has five paid office staff and our Board who perform the role on a voluntary basis. You have to love doing it as you pay to do the work in real terms, as it often means you have to get cover in your own business to attend meetings. We represent the industry on the key issues that will, or potentially could, affect each and every fish and chip shop in the UK. We are involved in lobbying for VAT reform, advertising bans, obesity legislation, apprenticeships, sustainability issues, meetings with companies about new products and getting better deals on products for members. We also deal with many media enquiries throughout the year, giving us the chance to tell the positive stories about fish and chips. We are also involved in the awards, improving standards and delivering training. All of this we manage to do with limited funds. We have around 10% of the industry as members, just imagine what we could do with double that or more! Now more than ever we need to pull together, we are entering a new world and we do no know what the landscape is going to be like. What we do know is by pulling together we can overcome anything. There is often talk of clubbing together to invest in a promotional fund together. My answer to that is that the framework already exists. If you are not a member of the NFFF then join, and if we can get enough members we can deliver all that the industry needs and so much more. Now is the time to show the world what a great industry we have and what we can do when we all pull in the same direction.
Survival of the professional
There are likely to be a lot of changes in the coming months and years, and unfortunately not all fish and chip shops will make it. I have long said that we are similar to butchers, before supermarkets they were all OK but when the supermarkets came along, doing average meat in big volumes, then only the best butchers survived. I think we may face something similar so its going to be about increasing your chances of survival and looking at the potential threats.
Customers want a choice on how to pay. Some will still pay cash but your business will not survive being cash only long term. People paying with cards tend to spend more, or if you don’t give them that option they go and pay somewhere else. The pandemic has accelerated this, and it has also led to more businesses offering online ordering, again it broadens to the number of potential customers you can have.
Training your teams well can make such a difference, it really is not a cost it is an investment. Training is not just about food quality but also standards and customer service. Not only do you get a direct benefit in your business, you get an added effect of motivated employees too which is a powerful thing. The NFFF are working on different courses to help the industry achieve this easily and economically.
Competition and shifting trends
I don’t mean between each other but more other businesses offering fish and chips such as pubs doing a collection and delivery service. I know many complain about the price of frying equipment but if it wasn’t expensive then every pub would have one now! It is not too big a threat now but we need to keep an eye on this and shifting trends in consumers. There has always been a focus on reaching 16-25 years olds for fear of losing them for life but so far, we are seeing them returning to fish and chips in later life. This may not always be the case, so we need to ensure we are getting fish and chips as a meal option to that age band.
If your business does not operate in an environmentally sound manner in the coming years then you will not make a profit! It will become that expensive to dispose of waste that it will be so important for every business to find ways of reducing it. The NFFF is already working with the Department of Businesses, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Smart Energy GB together with various other environmental organisations. We are also pleased to announce that we have set up an Environmental Committee, which will be made up of operators and suppliers/manufacturers to ensure the fish and chip sector is ahead of the curve.
I think if we can get all of these things right, we will see the fish and chip industry reach a new golden age, where we have a reputation for professionalism and providing good employment with great training. We really are within touching distance.
The NFFF will be focusing on these areas to help the industry. We will continue with our Zoom round tables and launch innovation circle zooms to help companies and ourselves have conversations with members. Our online surveys will continue, so once again we get information to steer which way we should be focusing our efforts. The industry is changing and so is the NFFF. It would be great, if you are not currently a member, for you to consider joining and help us to support the industry.