Speaking at a meeting with the Commons International Trade Select Committee (24 July), Wright highlighted the date for the UK’s departure from the EU was a pivotal moment in the run-up to the industry’s biggest selling period – Christmas and the holidays.
“All frozen and chilled warehouse space was taken two years ago, because people book it up for their Christmas and holiday campaigns, so from the point of view of stockpiling, it’s virtually impossible to do,” Wright told committee members.
He also drew attention to the cost the food and drink industry has had to weather as part of stockpiling preparations for the original Brexit date of 29 March and the first extension to 12 April.
Brexit costs in the system
“There will be costs of a no-deal Brexit delayed from 29 March and 12 April already in the system, both in terms of increased prices and, more likely, in terms of poorer returns to investors. That money to buy extra stock for stockpiling and to house it in warehouses has to come from somewhere and it won’t have been in the plans of members,” he added.
“Nobody can be ready and anybody that says they’re ready is probably misleading themselves. You can be prepared, but the level of preparedness has to be for the date that happens. Just because you prepared for 29 March or 12 April does not mean you are prepared for 31 October.”
When questioned about the cost of a no-deal Brexit on food and drink, Wright pointed to a mid-single-digits increase in food prices, thanks to the UK’s reliance on imported food from October and into the winter months.
“In the middle of the summer, we’re probably importing less than 30% of our food, but when you get to the end of the summer that figure begins to rise quite sharply and it goes on rising,” said Wright. “Any disruption to the availability of those products will add to cost and will add to difficulties.”
Food businesses below the radar
While the FDF represents some 4,000 food and drink businesses, this does not cover the entire industry – estimated to clock in at about 7,000 to 8,000 companies. With this in mind, Wright was unable to give a figure of the true economic cost of a no-deal Brexit.
“A lot of those [businesses] are below the radar, so we don’t know what the impact on them would be,” he continued. “But, if for instance, if you’re importing Greek yogurt or feta cheese and your supply is disrupted more than a week, you’re probably going to go out of business, because your customers will find someone else [to supply to].
“Similarly, if you’re exporting, European customers are withdrawing orders from UK suppliers because we can’t guarantee continuity of supply.”