A no-deal Brexit could result in a shortage of perishable goods and hard-to-grow products on British shelves. The UK food industry said the main impact of such a departure from the bloc will be on fresh produce, such as fruit and vegetables, which cannot be stockpiled by retailers or consumers and are largely imported from the EU during the winter months.
Others said disruption to supply chains – such as through lengthy stops at borders – could have implications for product availability and consumer choice. A Food and Drink Federation (FDF) spokesman said: “Delays and blockages at the ports would pose a particular threat. On average, we import 40% of our food and drink either directly from or via the EU."
“However, our reliance on importing is significantly higher around the October 31 exit date. We are concerned about the impact on imports where Government isn’t able to secure continuity deals for existing EU preferential trade agreements. A no-deal scenario would see the current flows of goods into the UK be significantly reduced for a period of months at a minimum. Limited shelf life products are where impacts will be likely felt, such as fruit and vegetables, salads, certain meats and essential ingredients like processed egg. There is no predictability around the types of goods that will get stuck in transit on their way into the UK, and therefore the impacts for consumers and manufacturers due to delays. FDF supports the closest possible trade and regulatory alignment between the UK and EU and an immigration policy which ensures access to the workers we need.”
Around 90% of the UK’s salad leaves from the middle of September through the winter are produced in the Murcia region of south-east Spain. The majority of other salad staples – such as peppers and cucumbers – also make a similar route through continental Europe, arriving at Dover to be dispatched to distribution centres and into the food chain. So uncertainty over a no-deal Brexit means there are situations where green veg is at a premium.
Dieter Lloyd, spokesman for the British Leafy Salads Association, said poor growing conditions in southern Spain in 2017 resulted in some products increasing five-fold in price at wholesale.
“Put simply, we can’t grow this stuff here. We have some facilities where we grow leaves under glass but not on any mass scale. Leafy salads have a shelf life – the clock is ticking from the moment it’s harvested, and retailers want to ensure they have a quality product with a decent shelf life. At the moment there is uncertainty about potential hold-ups at Dover, which will limit the amount of time a perishable product can last on shelves. We could be looking at a situation where some retailers decide not to stock it, some will look to import from outside the EU, and others will try to limit bulk buying. It means there is a potential for products to be unavailable or at a premium.”
While not consumed in the same number as other perishables, some citrus fruits such as lemons can be found on UK shelves largely thanks to growers in Europe. Yasemen Kaner-White, author of Lemon Compendium and lemon expert, said: “Spain is the largest exporter of lemons and citrus in general to the UK, so yes, a no-deal Brexit would undoubtedly result in prices going up. Wholesalers might have to start looking at other markets, such as Cyprus, Turkey and Greece, but there is a lot of uncertainty at the moment. Lemons can grow quite well in the UK, although not really on a mass scale, but people may find they want to start the process now. They are quite sensitive, though, so people will have to take care that it is not too warm, not too cold, and that the temperatures are right. An alternative citrus fruit would be a kumquat, which does grow well in the colder climate.”