Restaurants in East Anglia brace themselves for imminent price hikes

green brussel sprouts

green brussel sprouts - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Restaurants across East Anglia are gearing up for price hikes and menu shake-ups, as the poor yields resulting from extreme weather conditions start to bite an already fragile industry.

The Pier at Harwich. Picture: Milsom Hotels

The Pier at Harwich. Picture: Milsom Hotels - Credit: Archant

The price rises could prove to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for some East Anglian restaurants, during what is a turbulent time for the UK’s restaurant economy. The Gaucho group of steak restaurants, the hamburger chain Byron, Prezzos and Jamies Italian have all undertaken company voluntary arrangements, and other chains under financial pressure include Italian chain Strada, the Casual Dining Group, which owns La Tasca and Café Rouge and the Restaurant Group, which owns Frankie & Benny’s.

This week, consultancy CEBR said the Beast from the East and heatwave had pushed up wholesale prices of stables such as wheat, lettuce and carrots.

Alastair Ward, the managing director Elm Valley Foods, a Bury Saint Edmunds-based family-owned wholesale food company delivering to around 200 pubs, hotels and restaurants across East Anglia, is predicting that price hikes are “imminent in the next ten days to two weeks time.” He senses an “air of resignation” among the chefs and restaurant owners he speaks to on a daily basis. “The general feeling is that it isn’t going to get any easier,” he said.

“We are expecting to see the full range of price rises, because we have experienced both too much rain and then too much dry weather in the UK. Europe has been very hot this summer and that’s impacted the harvests in other countries too.”

Stas Anastasiades of Milsom

Stas Anastasiades of Milsom - Credit: Archant

Mr Ward, whose company sells a lot of frozen vegetables, says the price of brussel sprouts could go up by as much as 75%, which could lead to restaurants looking to alternative vegetables for their festive menu.

“That might be scare mongering, but I am sure we will have to pay more for them,” he said.

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“Potato chips are going up by 10%, which is a sizeable increase on a 10 kilo box of chips. We are also expecting the price of peas to go up by 10%. These two items are consequential, because almost every restaurant orders them.”

Farmers have been impacted by rising costs of oil and agricultural products on the global markets according to the BRC, and because of the dry weather, Suffolk farmers have seen smaller yields. “This creates low margins, so we will be putting up our prices accordingly,” said Mr Ward. “I think most restaurants will have to pass these price rises on to their customers, because its now a much more competitive market for them.”

Simon Protheroe from Procters Sausages

Simon Protheroe from Procters Sausages - Credit: Archant

He also warns that pubs should also brace themselves for a rise in the cost of crisps thanks to the poor potato harvest, that one well-known British crisp brand will be paying 15% more for their potatoes.

Mr Wards claims that the problem for restaurateurs is compounded by having to pay more in wages due to the rise in the minimum wage in April from £7.50 to £7.83 an hour, as well as increasing business rates and price rises from manufacturers.

High street restaurant chains are tied into contracts with large wholesalers that get reviewed on an annual basis, which Mr Wards explains means they won’t be immediately affected by the price hikes.

“They agree prices at the beginning of the year, so the prices will remain the same until then,” Mr Wards explained. “Smaller companies like ours can be more flexible on price and raise it as and when needed.”

Stas Anastasiades is operations director of Suffolk restaurant and hotel group Milsom, with restaurants Le Talbooth, Milsoms and The Pier as well as the hotels Maison Talbooth and Milsoms Kesgrave Hall.

He claims that the weak pound has been impacting food costs since the Brexit vote. “This has been a particular problem for speciality foods imported from France, Italy and Spain such as olive oil and charcuterie,” he explained.

“We do try to use as much UK ingredients as possible, which means that the impact on food cost has been noticeable but manageable.

“Potato prices and quality have definitely been impacted by the weather this summer, salad crops have been more expensive and we have noticed that the soft fruit season has been shorter with the quality affected.

“But we expect seasonal blips from year to year and just hope that this levels out. We will try hard not to pass any price increases on to our customers, but of course we’re unable to predict what the future holds.”

Its not just vegetable prices that are set to rise but also pork, as the heatwave caused pigs to eat less and produce smaller litters. As a result piglet prices have risen by 8%. Simon Protheroe, who runs Procter’s Sausages, a wholesaler with 150 catering customers across East Anglia, says he hasn’t seen price rises so far - “but I’m taking it on a week by week basis,” he commented.

Mr Protheroe says he will “of course” be passing on any price hikes to his clients “when it happens.” “In the meantime, I’m keeping my head down.”