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Servings of fish fall in restaurants amid squeezed budgets


Restaurants have served up three million fewer portions of fish in the last 12 months and shoppers are buying less in supermarkets, analysis shows.

In the year up to June 2012 the number of servings of fish in UK restaurants fell from 449 million to 446 million.

Paul Pendola, client development director at the market research NPD Group, warned a Seafish conference in Birmingham the figures mean restaurants face a dog-eat-dog fight to get more people through their doors.

“At the end of the day we need more people walking into restaurants,” he said. “It’s a real fight for share of servings. The question is quite simple. Where are we going to get more business? We are going to steal it from somebody else. There is no new traffic coming into the system.”

Usually when a recession ends and an economy recovers its strength restaurants have been able to carry on as they did before but he warned it will be different this time because of new competitiors.

Mr Pendola said: “Over the last 30 years when we’ve seen recession the economy comes back lunch and supper go back to normal levels. What’s happening in this case is a dimmer switch effect. When the lights come back on everything is going to look different.”

Among the new competitors are supermarkets which now offer many more meals that compete with restaurants, such as sushi platters. He also cited the rise of “fast casual dining” restaurants that offer high good quality, speed, usually getting the customer to go to the food bar – he described them as “lite full service” – and which have quickly created a £1.5 billion industry with 163 million visits and an average spend of £9 per head.

Analysis by NPD suggests that since 2008 customers have been willing to tolerate annual price rises of 1.25 per cent.

Of visits made to restaurants, he added, 9 per cent are for breakfast, 8 per cent for morning snacks, 33 per cent for lunch, 16 per cent for afternoon snacks, 28 per cent for dinner and 5 per cent are for evening snacks.

Milly Smyth, of market analysts Nielsen, told the audience that tighter household budgets are discouraging consumers from buying ethically.

The proportion of consumers who are buying ethically has fallen from 44 per cent in October 2006 to 41 per cent in January 2012.

She said that while many consumers would like to be ethical there are fewer people who are willing to pay the extra premium that is often involved. “We’ve seen the percentage of households willing to buy ethically level out at around 40 per cent,” she said.

“They aren’t as prepared to take the premium as they once were. Less people say it’s worth spending extra for. People want to be ethical. They are struggling to translate that into their shopping basket.”

One consequence of people having to be more careful with their money is a rise in the sales of fresh fish. This is because rather than get an entire week’s worth – or more- of shopping in one outing, they are shopping more frequently.

She said: “Basket sizes are down. An increasing number of people are saying, ‘I need to cut down on my weekly food.’ People are using smaller baskets and doing more top-up shops. People are doing two or three shops a week. If people are doing smaller shops each week it allows them to shop for fresh a little more. Fresh [fish] is where we are seeing growth.”

Salmon remains the most popular fish purchase in supermarkets and while the volume of sales has fallen the value of them has risen 4.6 per cent.


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