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Greencore could airlift produce to UK in hard Brexit

CEO Coveney warns sandwich giant must act soon to maintain supply of key ingredients if no deal

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Patrick Coveney, Greencore CEO

Patrick Coveney, Greencore CEO

Patrick Coveney, Greencore CEO

Irish food group Greencore is prepared to airlift key ingredients such as rocket and spinach to the UK in the event of a hard Brexit, according to chief executive Patrick Coveney.

He also said that the group will need to push the button on its Brexit battle plan within three weeks, if the UK government has not managed to get a deal through parliament that would prevent it from crashing out of the European Union.

Greencore, whose main market is the UK after the sale of its US business last year, manufactures more than 700 million sandwiches and food-to-go items every year.

Its customers include supermarket chains such as Asda, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury's.

Mr Coveney, a brother of Tánaiste and Foreign Minister Simon, said also said he's less optimistic now about a Brexit deal being reached, but remains hopeful.

About 20pc of Greencore's ingredients in terms of spend come from directly outside the UK, while another 10pc of ingredients originate directly from the UK but with a significant component of those that originate outside the UK.

Greencore - one of the world's biggest sandwich makers - has been stockpiling some ingredients such as prawns and tomato paste.

Mr Coveney said that a warning from the British Retail Consortium this week that a no-deal Brexit would leave supermarket shelves empty, "pretty accurately" sums up the potential outcome.

"For us, we won't be immune to that, but we think we'll be able to construct a solution that will have decent availability of some food, but there would certainly be some impact in terms of our business," he said, speaking after Greencore's annual general meeting in Dublin.

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He said the issue would be whether suppliers and companies such as Greencore can find ways of importing ingredients to the UK without going through Calais.

"The simple issue there is, would you be prepared to airfreight in fresh produce," he said. "We would require our customers to make a firm commitment to covering the cost of that difference if we were to do that."

He said the company has not made any specific plans yet to airlift produce to the UK.

"Over the next two to three weeks, we have to make a decision on some of those solutions if we were to go with that," he added.

"But we'll only make that [decision] in conjunction with our customers."

He said Greencore has enough product stored to be able to deal with between one and three months' of disruption on the main shipping channels.

Irish Independent