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Indies are experiencing an uphill battle when it comes to Brexit. Speciality Food spoke to fine food retailers across the sector to find out how they are adapting to new ways of ordering and stocking European products and reevaluating the types of products they order.
Costs are racking up
Importing products from outside the UK is no longer a simple or cheap feat. The new regulations have caused price increases in all aspects of supply and delivery, making it more challenging than before.
Patricia Michelson, director and founder of cheesemongers La Fromagerie explained: “As we navigate the red tape and extra paperwork as well as all the costs to bring in goods from the EU, the amount of money is racking up.
“With Italian produce, we experience delays and paperwork problems which are affecting us on a weekly basis. Having to wait much longer for goods to be given the all-clear to be shipped, and worse still when one bit of the paperwork is not filled in properly - i.e., not ticking the box MADE IN ITALY for instance held up one whole shipment because one producer’s paperwork missed this out.”
Unreliability of deliveries
Alex Marsh, CEO of Tweakd, a pre-prepared meal and juice brand, told Speciality Food that the new regulations have made importing speciality products, like cooked meat and fish, from France “much, much harder”. He said the “badly thought out, last-minute bureaucratic madness” and the “incredibly convoluted British import system” caused import times to increase from about three days to five weeks, as well as adding costs.”
Similarly, Jen Grimstone-Jones from Cheese Etc., The Pangbourne Cheese Shop has experienced unreliability of deliveries and longer waiting times for European cheeses. She told Speciality Food: “The biggest headache we have experienced since Brexit has been the unpredictability of supply. Our suppliers think that a cheese is coming so we pass the information on to our customers, and then when the delivery arrives half of the order isn’t there.
“The other problem is time. We used to be able to order for the same week delivery, we’re now operating on a two-week lead time, sometimes three. The cheeses come across in refrigerated containers so the delay isn’t causing a problem with quality but we’re now avoiding ordering fresh cheeses which have a shorter shelf life.”
Charlotte Nemeth of Ingleton’s Seasons Bakery, winner of a 2021 Farm Shop & Deli Show Retailer Award is struggling to import high-quality chocolate. She explains: “The best chocolate comes from abroad and we are already seeing a steady decline in availability that will only get worse with time.”
Promoting British produce instead
Brexit has caused a plethora of issues for both UK independents and European food suppliers, and with potentially long-lasting disruptions to the supply chain from the war in Ukraine, fine food retailers need to create solutions.
Industry experts believe that indies can combat supply issues by focusing on British-made products and avoiding reliance on external trade. If anything, both Brexit and the crisis in Ukraine have demonstrated that British reliance on imported products can sometimes be a risky business, and by supporting local producers, independents can not only offer a stable foundation for their local food ecosystem but potentially avoid the impact of international fallout in the process.
This method of ‘plugging the gap’ with British products not only helps fine food businesses save extra costs and time but also provides customers with world-class produce.
Clare Jackson, director of Slate Cheese explained, “When customers come in asking for a European cheese that they know, we love to suggest the British alternative, give them a taste and see how it measures up. For example, Ogleshield in place of Raclette is usually a wonderful new discovery!”
Jen reflected this idea, “We do stock great British cheeses but I think customers would really miss the European ones if they weren’t available. Nevertheless, British cheesemaking is world-class and most customers will predominately buy British. The British public like to know where their food is coming from and we have a connection with the farm or dairy where the British cheeses are produced in that we buy direct where we can.”
Even British products can be affected
While focusing on Great British produce can reduce lengthy delivery times and cut costs, these products are not always immune to the Brexit effect. Therefore, it is a balancing act of talking to suppliers and figuring out the best plan for your business.
As Mark Kacary, managing director of Norfolk Deli explains: “Most of what we do champions Norfolk producers so in a number of ways we’ve not been as affected as a deli or business specialising in Italian or Spanish foods. However, not all ingredients are grown here so the increased prices in marmalade for example has to be closely related to the price of Seville oranges. Some of our suppliers are finding that stocks of jars and bottles (some of which come from Europe) have been harder to come by and or just more expensive. We get as many emails and letters from local suppliers telling us of increases in prices as we do from businesses located in Europe.
“We are fortunate in that our business is not 100% reliant on European imports, but it doesn’t mean that we have not seen the effects.”