16 June 2016, 10:42 AM
  • What impact may there be on the food retail employment sector if Britain exits the EU? Shahzad Ali, CEO of YapJobs shares his thoughts
Brexit vs Food Retail Employment

Though news headlines and outspoken individuals are making assertive statements around the pros and cons of the Brexit referendum, the only truth we can be certain of is that we would be in unchartered waters if we were to leave the EU. Over the past few weeks, we have seen the value of the pound fall as the pro-Brexit campaign has grown in strength. But what impact may this have on those working in Britain’s fine food industry?

Cities like London have a thriving food industry. However, as with most of the hospitality and service sectors, the industry often struggles to fill positions due to staff shortages and high churn rates. A large number of people who therefore work in the hospitality sector are from overseas, particularly the EU. This has the additional benefit of ensuring that people are in the right roles to offer advice to customers on specific cuisines, which is particularly important when talking about fine foods.

If the UK was to leave the EU, then obviously this would lead to a tightening of borders. With the hospitality sector so reliant on people offering their skills and expertise from outside of the UK, it is possible that many small places may not be able to continue operating and could close. High-end food stalls which require specialist workers may become rarer, and the diversity of food in food halls and other places may be stifled over time.

Yet this should not mean that the industry will collapse – rather the sector will need to evolve quickly to survive. It may also pave the way for an even greater diversity of international cuisine, which may have an influence on new food businesses opening up.

Britain is an experimental culinary nation – we want to try new types of food consistently, and the diversity of restaurants and groceries available in stores is a reflection of our drive towards experimentation. At a time where there are many stores selling alternative foodstuff – like farm shops and food halls – it is important to keep the creative spark fostered. The migration of employees and import policies may need to be revised, but there will always be people who offer new ideas for the culinary sector. In the 1950s and 60s, eating sushi was a new and exotic trend which started by those who wanted something different from Japan – and with this came a rapid expansion which has filled the centres of major cities. This aspect will not change and regardless of whether or not we remain in the EU, the UK will continue to see the food industry develop.

Different markets and groups may argue the different aspects of different policies, but one point that is certain is that our sector in its current state is reliant on the current border regulations which Britain has, and leaving the EU would put this at risk. Employers therefore need to ensure that they adapt quickly to recruit new people to fill any net loss. This can be done by ensuring that they strive to make their staff as happy as they make their customers, ensuring that company culture is strong in times of uncertainty. Good waiters and culinary staff build relationships with customers, and this is particularly important in the fine food industry. By focusing on building a happy working culture, regardless of the outcome of the referendum, food retailers and service providers will ensure that they are not at risk from losing staff during any period of uncertainty.

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