Last month, cooking oil prices hit a record high due to rising inflation and the war in Ukraine, with Ukraine and Russia exporting around 80% of the world’s sunflower oil. Logical disruptions from the Black Sea after Vladimir Putin’s invasion disrupted trade, leading to a global shortage of cooking oil.
Brendan Padfield, owner of the Unruly Pig in Bromeswell, Suffolk, was among those who had noticed a huge difference in the cost of oil.
Among operators, he said, there had been huge “consternation and exasperation” at the grossly inflated costs of cooking oil which were “at least a plague on everyone’s house”.
While some had suggested cooking in beef dripping rather than oil, Padfield found no solace in the idea. “We’ve cooked in beef dripping for more than five years,” he said, “[now] everyone is shifting, and the price of beef dripping is thus going through the roof due to supply and demand.”
He pointed out that the increasing cost of cooking oil was just one example of the ever-inflationary basic costs faced at the pub. “It’s a difficult circle to square,” he concluded, “but somehow we’re going to have to do it.”
Marc Bridgen, owner of the Dog at Wingham, near Canterbury in Kent, had also seen cooking oil prices go through the roof. While some products such as fish or meat could be switched with cheaper substitutes on the menu, cooking oil was a stock ingredient of which there were few less pricey alternatives.
“We’re having to employ different new technologies and approaches to work to enable us to tackle the challenges of the next big period,” he said, and was looking into filtration systems that could make oil last longer.
However, his biggest concern was there could come a point where oil was in such short supply that you couldn’t get hold of it at all.
Operators around the country had experienced staggering prices. The Magdalen Arms operator Florence Fowler said she had been pushed to find a different oil supplier for the Oxford-based pub due to rising costs, and Nicholas Hack of the Cadeleigh Arms, Tiverton, Devon said prices had nearly doubled to £40 for 20 litres of rapeseed oil.
While they were lucky at the Cadeleigh Arms not to rely overly on oil in the kitchen, Hack said they recycled roast potato oil to make a little go a long way. This involved filtering the oil by hand then using it again the following week.
Aside from filtering oil, Hack believed there was not much more that could be done, with cheaper oil running the risk of getting to a burning point quicker and causing more dirt.
Some operators were luckier and had dodged the full blow of the supply shortage. Heath Ball, operator of the Red Lion & Sun in Highgate, north London, agreed rising costs of oil were “crazy”, but said supply was holding up.
The situation reminded him of the fuel shortage last October, which he believed was exacerbated by the press telling consumers there was a shortage, resulting in people rushing to the pumps.
“If you do the same now with sunflower oil, you'll certainly be paying top dollar - I'd estimate at least 50% more than you were six months ago,” he added.
Supply was also fine at Lancashire-based gastropub the Parkers Arms in Clitheroe according to chef-patron Stosie Madi, who purchased oil from Yallo and Wignalls farm which were within 30 miles of the pub.