Fish and chips: A healthy choice for any entrepreneur

While the internet and social media may seem like the future, one of Britain’s oldest sectors still provides fantastic opportunities for a new start-up

If you’re considering starting up your own business, you may well be looking at one of the more glitzy, advanced sectors such as mobile apps, location-based devices or social media.

Millions of people are being drawn to these sectors by the sexy, trendy and lucrative image they convey. Everyone wants to ride the wave of the future, don’t they?

Traditional vs. tech

Well, maybe it’s time for a rethink. Maybe, instead of jumping the bandwagon headed for cyberspace, which is extremely congested and high-risk, you should think of a more traditional business – one which offers stability, a loyal customer base and an industry body committed to firm, clear standards.

If this sounds tempting, then there’s one business venture you should definitely take a look at – the fish and chip shop.

The chippie is as quintessentially British as tea-and-biscuits and terraced streets, but it’s proving as profitable as any 21st-century fast-food multinational.  A recent survey found that fish suppers remain the nation’s favourite takeaway meal, outselling Indian food at a rate of 2:1 – proof of the enduring popularity of this simple dish, which first appeared more than 150 years ago.

Because fish and chips are seen as cheap compared with eating out or ordering an exotic takeaway, demand has remained strong during the economic downturn. According to seafood industry body Seafish, sales and footfall actually increased in 2008, when the recession was arguably at its worst.

The industry’s sales currently top £300m, and total turnover is nearly a billion pounds a year. Yet the risks and overheads associated with starting a new fish and chip business are relatively low, as Mehmet Mehmet, of specialist fish and chip accountants Miles Waterman and information website fishadvisors.com, explains:

“The industry’s always been stable, it’s not a thing that phases in and out, and it’s a British tradition. It’s a safe bet.

“Very few new fish and chip businesses are forced to close down. Even when they don’t thrive, they can sell on to someone else rather than close down altogether.

“I would estimate that the cost of fitting out a new chippy is around £100,000, which is very realistic. Based on my knowledge of the industry, I would expect the proprietor to get that back within five years, so it’s a good investment. In fact, I’ve seen some companies get their money back within one year.”

Be part of the owner-managed revolution

Another key incentive for opening a chippy, as explained by Mehmet, is lack of competition:

“There’s no significant, national fish-and-chip franchise like McDonald’s or KFC, no-one that everyone has heard of. I’d say 90% of the industry is owner-managed businesses, so if you open a new shop you’re not going to be engulfed by a huge chain.”

Like all fast foods, fish and chips is constantly being dragged into the debate about healthy eating; however the industry’s trade body, the Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF), is determined to fight back by promoting fish and chips as a healthy, sustainable product.

Richard Ord, a member of the NFFF’s executive committee, recently told Startups about the message his organisation is trying to put across:

“When you look at fish-and-chips, it’s a remarkably low-calorie dish. Our product comes out at 5.5% fat, around a third of a cheese and pickle sandwich from Pret. There’s nothing better than fish and chips in a balanced diet.”

In addition to raising awareness, the BFFF is perpetually striving to enhance standards and propagate new ideas – its dynamic attitude is another reason why opening a chippy is such an attractive option right now.

Richard Ord gave us an insight into the sort of practices the BFFF has spread among its members:

“In terms of sustainability, we now use fish from sustainable fishing grounds, and the majority of shops are now using insulated packaging, rather than the traditional paper wraps. These are more environmentally responsible, and our members don’t have to spoil their fantastic product by wrapping it any more.

“In terms of health, the frying mediums we use now are better, we’ve moved away from transfats and saturated fats, as an industry we’re using a thicker chip than other outlets, which absorbs less oil. And, like all the major high-street retailers, we’ve embraced the notion of displaying nutritional values on our products.”

Given such sweeping changes, it’s clearly an exciting time to be a chippy owner – and many prospective entrepreneurs may be tempted to become one.

Perhaps the last word should be given to Richard Ord, who is in no doubt that fish and chip shops present a viable, sustainable alternative for anyone looking to start up in business:

“We see fish and chips as the British national dish, and one of the world’s great dishes. It’s great that our industry has evolved, and you’re now seeing gourmet fish and chip shops competing with the finest restaurants – a far cry from the backstreet chippies of the past.

“But we believe ours is a good old industry, a great industry, and it’s going to be around for years to come.”

If we’ve whet your appetite for a fish and chip start-up, click here to read our step-by-step guide to opening one.

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