Businesses must 'grab the Brexit bull by the horns' and accelerate plans for crash-out, minister urges
Businesses in Ireland must “grab the Brexit bull by the horns” and accelerate their plans now for a crash-out Brexit, Business Minister Heather Humphreys has warned during a visit to Ireland’s largest fruit producer.
“A crash-out is less than nine weeks away. Against this backdrop, I’m appealing to you to act now to protect your businesses and employees,” Minister Humphreys said on Friday alongside Keelings Fruit chief executive Caroline Keeling, who said her company had spent years preparing for Brexit with help from Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland.
“Ours is a fresh produce industry and, by its very nature, fast and efficient supply chains are critical to everything we do,” Ms Keeling said. “The supply chains in place have developed over decades to be the fastest and most cost-effective. A no-deal Brexit will change these supply chains.”
They spoke inside the Keelings Farm Shop, where the fruits on sale vividly illustrated the dependence of Irish food firms on the UK “land bridge”.
Alongside locally grown strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries were pears and peaches from Spain, apples from New Zealand, mangos and bananas from Latin America, and dates from Palestine.
While most Keelings goods sold in summertime are grown in Ireland, Ms Keeling told Independent.ie that most sold in winter is imported - and at least 70pc arrives via Britain.
She said Keelings is exploring the use of continental European ferries for more deliveries, but sea services must be faster, consistent and daily to ensure produce doesn’t spoil and shelves remain stocked.
“Strawberries and raspberries need the fastest supply chain. We tend to have stock here of less than a day,” she said.
Retail Ireland director Thomas Burke said producers, distributors and grocers were focused on minimising food-supply bottlenecks following Brexit, but conceded: “We’re in uncharted territory. A crash-out Brexit is the worst possible outcome.”
When asked if he was confident that no grocery shelves would be bare within two days of a hard Brexit, as the Freight Transport Association of Ireland has warned could happen, Mr Burke said: “I don’t think anyone could say that. But I don’t think there will massive loads of empty shelves either. No one can say they are 100pc prepared for Brexit because we don’t even know what Brexit looks like yet.”
Mr Burke said he expects grocers to stockpile products in the run-up to October 31.
“Companies are building their inventories. We know there could be serious disruption in Dublin Port and Dover,” he said. “We do need extra storage space. There’s no doubt about that, given we will face longer supply chains after Brexit. But that’s a capital infrastructure project and not likely to happen soon.”
He added: “Certain products may run out or become too difficult to stock. But retailers know what the products at greatest risk are, and are looking at alternative supply chains.”