Sardines make comeback after Britons turn to tinned food in lockdown

Shoppers can expect to see an increase in supermarket stock this year. - Christopher Jones
Shoppers can expect to see an increase in supermarket stock this year. – Christopher Jones

Sardines are making a comeback in modern kitchens after Britons turned to tinned food during lockdown, Waitrose has revealed.

Sales of the popular post-war staple have jumped by 500 per cent in recent months, as many people in the UK stocked up on longer-life food in a bid to cut down on shopping trips.

Mel Tillotson, fisheries manager at Waitrose, said: “Customers are diversifying their choice of fish, opting for sardines instead of, or alongside, traditional favourites such as cod or haddock.

“Fresh sardines are seasonal but people have learned a lot from Covid-19 about stocking up meaning tinned foods have been in demand.”

Eighty per cent of fish consumed in the UK belongs to the ‘Big Five’ species of cod, haddock, prawn, tuna or salmon.

But the increased popularity of sardines during lockdown, coupled with one of Britain’s earliest sardine seasons in history, means shoppers can expect to see an increase in supermarket stock this year.

A record 700 tonnes were captured in Cornwall, the result of perfect temperatures and nutrients in the water which offer a healthy amount of prey.

George Clark at the Marines Stewardship Council, added: “Sardines are a fantastic, versatile fish and very good for you. 

“The sardines in Cornwall have been MSC certified for over ten years and continue to demonstrate best practice in how this iconic UK fishery is operated and managed. 

“It’s always a joy to see these sparkling silver fish on counters with their little blue label when they come into season, recognising the efforts made by fishermen to ensure these stocks remain healthy and sustainable.”

Typically,  80 per cent of sardines will be sold overseas to markets such as France, Italy and Spain. Ocean Fish, a 15-vessel crew which has been catching sardines with ring nets and supplying them to the UK and overseas since the 1700s, has been uplifted by the strong season.

A spokesperson for Ocean Fish said: “We are very fortunate that the start of the British sardine season has coincided with the restart of the food service sector, which, in addition to the export market in Western Europe, forms a substantial part of our trade. 

“Fish counters are sadly declining across many of Britain’s food retailers so we rely heavily on the export market.”

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