CURRY-house owners are meeting for crisis talks amid concerns the rise of cheap supermarket takeaway-style deals and curbs on immigration are cutting into their business.
The last five years have seen a rise in big supermarkets offering curry “takeaway” meal packs .
Curry restaurants are already reeling from tightening immigration rules which forbid visas for non-European Union chefs offered less than £29,570 a year.
Restaurants opened by south Asian chefs who migrated to the UK in the 1950s and 1960s are struggling to survive as their children and grandchildren pursue other careers and skilled foreign applicants are turned away.
About 150 curry-house owners will meet in Edinburgh next month to discuss the industry’s response as part of a series of televised crisis talks throughout the UK known as The Catering Circle.
Foysol Choudhury, owner of The Verandah restaurant and vice-chairman of the Edinburgh Mela cultural festival which takes place this weekend, said mass-produced supermarket curries are no match for well-trained chefs with an understanding of the traditions and culture of south Asian cuisine.
He said: “Over the last five years there has been a growth in supermarket ready-made frozen package curry dishes.
“This growth is more related to the price and the convenience of these supermarket foods than to the traditional quality and authenticity of their origins.
“This rise in food technology has unfortunately reduced the number of visits curry-house customers make to curry houses.
“Competition is good for business but when the competition is unfair that is bad for business.
“This competition is unfair because curry houses are short of well-trained chefs who have not only traditional cooking skills but have a cultural understanding of the art of cooking the best quality curry dishes.
“The serving of these dishes in the cultural atmosphere of the curry house is an experience that cannot be derived from a frozen package of supermarket curries.
“It is for this reason that the owners of curry houses are lobbying the government to make it possible for curry-house chefs to enter the country, even for specified periods, to ensure that this important £4 billon traditional food industry does not decline and be replaced by a frozen curry food industry.”
Supermarket leader Tesco offers two curries, pilau rice, naan bread and bombay potatoes for £7.50 in its Tesco Takeaway for 2 deal while Asda offers a similar pack for just £6 or two for £10.
Sainsbury’s, which invites reviews, has just one star for its £9 Indian Meal Box with customers complaining about “uninspiring and cheap ... tasteless sludge”, and one customer insisting: “For another £2 I can get an amazing takeaway from my local Indian.”
The curry industry generates more than £4.1 billion for the UK economy, with over 15,000 curry houses, according to The Catering Circle.
Its roadshow will come to Edinburgh’s Britannia Spice on September 8 with experts in business, immigration, law, technology and management offering advice to curry-house owners in an event that will be recorded for Bangladeshi television station Channel S.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We continue to welcome the very top chefs who will promote innovative and authentic cuisine here in the UK, and such skilled chefs are on the shortage occupation list.
“But we also want to nurture much more home-grown talent and encourage young people in this country who want to pursue a skilled career.
“This means the restaurant sector offering training to attract and recruit resident workers to meet their staffing needs.
“That is why we have been working closely with the Asian Restaurant Skills Board, who are developing and promoting scholarships and apprenticeships to help restaurants fill their kitchens with the best up-and-coming talent from the UK.”