A Co Down food boss has warned prices of pre-packed sandwiches could go up due to the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol on the cost of ingredients when the Brexit transition period ends in 45 days time.
Tens of thousands of sandwiches” cross the Irish Sea every day, according to Brian Reid, managing director of sandwiches firm Deli-Lites.
His business ships in speciality breads to make sandwiches for supermarkets, cafe chains and filling stations.
But he said the prospect of checks or bureaucracy could complicate his supply of ingredients like meats, ciabattas and flatbreads from Great Britain.
That could mean added costs for him – which could ultimately get passed on to consumers.
Bread companies in Great Britain, such as Jackson’s, supply breads which are not made in Northern Ireland or the Republic.
Mr Reid is the latest voice adding to the clamour over the impact of the NI Protocol, part of the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and EU, on food supplies in Northern Ireland.
The Irish government told the Belfast Telegraph it was aware of the “sensitive” nature of the concerns.
Mr Reid said it continued to be an anxiety-inducing time for his business, which employs 230 people in Warrenpoint.
“When the protocol came along saying there would be no border in Ireland, we thought, this is going to suit us.
“But now there’s an Irish Sea border, we’re looking at our supply chain. There’s an opportunity for the local supply chain as we’re shipping potentially less product from the UK into Northern Ireland.
“But some of our raw materials come in from the UK and there are some bread products we can’t source in Ireland that we’re having to bring across the Irish Sea like a specific ciabatta or flatbread, or a specific muffin product for a customer or a filling for a wrap.
“We’re thinking, is this going to go up in price? Who pays for the tariffs, who pays for the disruption in the supply? Will there be delays at ports?”
Customers such as cafe chains require consistency in the sandwiches they sell.
There could be a real threat to the cost of goods when we walk into a store but a supplier always has to look for an opportunity on how we make the most of it and control what we can controlBrian Reid, Deli-Lites
“We make to the exact same specification for Ireland as the UK. Our large customers like cafe chains and major retailers like consistency in their product ranges. The big coffee chains want to make sure the experience in-store in Dublin, Belfast and London are the same, so as a supplier we have to work really hard to make sure that’s as seamless as possible.”
However, he said the changes could bring an opportunity for businesses like his if products can no longer cross the Irish Sea without restrictions.
“Maybe pressure will come in regional offices of supermarkets to source more locally,” he said.
“There could be a real threat to the cost of goods when we walk into a store but a supplier always has to look for an opportunity on how we make the most of it and control what we can control.”
He said the company had brought in advisers to plan for Brexit but that times were challenging.
“With what Sainsbury’s had said about not moving products, it’s frightening, but the worst thing is the uncertainty with Covid-19 presenting threats all around the world. There are too many moving parts.
“We’ve been 20 years in business and we haven’t had such a challenging time before.”
Supermarket Sainsbury’s has indicated it could limit certain ranges of dairy, fish and meat in its Northern Ireland shops because of the prospect of costly checks.
Last week RTE reported that the UK and EU were discussing a “grace period” which would give UK supermarkets shipping into Northern Ireland time to adjust to a new regime.
The First and Deputy First Ministers last week wrote to the vice-president of the European Commission Maros Sefcovic outlining their fears that the operation of the protocol could result in a “real threat to the continuity of the supply of existing food and other products to our market”.
Details of the protocol are being discussed by the Joint Committee on the Withdrawal Agreement, which is made up of UK and EU representatives.
The First Ministers’ letter has been copied to the Republic’s Department of Foreign Affairs.
A spokeswoman for the department said it welcomed “the clear engagement and considered input of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister”.
“As has already been stated in Brussels, the Commission take this issue very seriously,” she said. “There are ongoing intensive contacts at technical level between the EU and the UK on this issue. The Irish Government is conscious of its sensitive nature and critical importance.
“We will continue to advocate within the Joint Committee, and the Specialised Committee on the Protocol, for solutions that work for people and businesses in Northern Ireland in line with the requirements of the Withdrawal Agreement and protocol.
“There are opportunities in the Joint Committee to clarify the detail of how certain technical aspects of the protocol will be implemented, but what is required under the protocol is agreed.
“Implementing the Withdrawal Agreement, including the protocol, is a legal obligation and necessary to create the trust required to conclude a future partnership agreement between the EU and the UK.”
We were promised frictionless trade by the Government. However as it stand currently, firms are looking at increased bureaucracy, logistical changes in terms of shipping, different packaging and a host of new barriers to tradeNI Food and Drink Association spokesperson
A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, said clarity was needed with just 45 days until the end of the transition period on January 1.
“We were promised frictionless trade by the Government. However as it stand currently, firms are looking at increased bureaucracy, logistical changes in terms of shipping, different packaging and a host of new barriers to trade,” he said.
“All of these things add cost, and ultimately it is the consumer who will end up paying for it.
“There is still time to get this right – but that window is rapidly closing.
“At NIFDA we will continue to fight for our members, alongside stakeholders from across the food chain from farmers to retailers, and work with Government to find solutions and get the clarity we need.”