Brexit impact

Brexit: mixed response from food and drink industry

By Michael Stones contact

- Last updated on GMT

The vote in favour of Brexit has drawn a mixed food industry reaction
The vote in favour of Brexit has drawn a mixed food industry reaction

Related tags: Drink manufacturing businesses, European union, Uk, Food and drink federation

The UK food and drink sector has given a mixed response, so far, to voters’ decision to quit the EU. Here, we report food and drink industry leaders’ first reactions to the historic decision.

Greencore ceo Patrick Coveney tweeted: Incredibly disappointing​ but that's democracy – need calm heads now to steer Britain & EU through very tricky waters.” 

Paul Wilkinson, chair of the National Skills Academy and former chair of RHM and Thorntons, said Brexit would bring new opportunities for UK food and drink manufacturers.

“The result provides a unique opportunity for the food industry to capitalise on the exit, once the minds have been reset from looking back,”​ he told FoodManufacture.co.uk.

Wilkinson expected company boards to be working on their plans for Brexit today. “A weaker pound will help exports and the excessive red tape of the EU will release real innovation,”​ he said.

“As a farmer and chair of​ [grain co-operative] Fengrain, the agriculture industry can also take control of our food supply and environmental management more effectively.”

He also expected the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and the National Farmers Union (NFU) to “show real leadership from now on”.

‘A disappointing result’

FDF director general Ian Wright said: “In March, we released the results of a poll of our members which showed 70% support for Britain to remain in the EU. It's inevitable in the light of those results that the majority of FDF members will regard this as a disappointing result for the food and drink industry.”

Wright pledged the FDF would work on behalf of its members and all those across our industry to “find a way through this very challenging period”​.

Priority would go to working with government to understand what the Brexit meant for trading, market access and regulation to secure the best outcome for British food and drink manufacturing businesses and their consumers.

NFU director general Terry Jones said: “The road ahead is uncertain for the UK but our teams in Stoneleigh, Westminster and Brussels will be seeking to create an environment within which British farming businesses can thrive.

“The NFU will explain to decision makers why farmers must be able to trade with Europe on a level playing field. We will tell those in the corridors of power how farmers in the UK will expect access to labour and markets to ensure a successful future for their businesses.”

NFU president Meurig Raymond acknowledged the vote will “inevitably lead to a period of uncertainty”​ in areas that are of vital importance to farmers.

Ceo of the manufacturers’ organisation EEF Terry Scuoler said: “While it is not the result many businesses wanted, it’s the democratic will of our nation. The government must move very quickly to stabilise the economy, reassure the markets and shore-up business confidence.”

Leaving the union would take some time, and the government should not rush to instigate Article 50 and the formal exit process, while there is so much uncertainty, he said.

‘Momentous turning point in our history’

Confederation of British Industry director general Carolyn Fairbairn described the Brexit vote as “a momentous turning point in our history”​.

Many businesses will be concerned and need time to assess the implications, she said. “The urgent priority now is to reassure the markets. We need strong and calm leadership from the government, working with the Bank of England, to shore up confidence and stability in the economy.

“The choices we make over the coming months will affect generations to come. This is not a time for rushed decisions.”

Dairy UK chief executive Dr Judith Bryans said the UK dairy sector was adaptable, resilient and determined, with the skills and innovation to rise to its many challenges.

“We have an outstanding UK industry producing world-class products and our people have the ambition and the determination to succeed.”

Scotch Whisky Association chief executive David Frost acknowledged that the process of leaving the EU would inevitably generate significant uncertainty. 

“Of course, we are confident Scotch Whisky will remain the pre-eminent international spirit drink,”​ said Frost.

“But equally, there are serious issues to resolve in areas of major importance to our industry and which require urgent attention, notably the nature of future trade arrangements with both the single market and the wider world.” 

Consumer confidence

British Beer & Pub Association boss Brigid Simmonds said it was vital the government acted quickly to secure economic stability and protect consumer confidence.

“We will be vigilant to ensure the Brexit negotiations do not harm our exports abroad and the competitive position of beer and pubs in Britain,”​ said Simmonds.

Verdict Retail global research director Maureen Hinton focused on the value of sterling. 

“For retailers the immediate issue is the fall in the pound and whether it will remain weak for a sustained period. This will impact costs as most buying is done in US$ and will push up prices – however it is a benefit for those selling internationally as it makes UK goods more competitively priced.”

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