A British cheesemaker has sold his business to a larger rival to regain access to customers in the European Union after Brexit left him with an estimated £600,000 black hole in lost EU sales.
Simon Spurrell, who made headlines when he highlighted prohibitive export costs after the UK’s exit from the single market, will remain managing director of the Macclesfield-based Cheshire Cheese Company and retains a stake in the business.
Its new owner, fellow family-run north-west England producer Joseph Heler Cheese, has maintained a presence in the EU as a result of its larger operations and distribution hub in the Netherlands, which Spurrell hopes will make supplying European customers viable again.
Spurrell said he was thrilled to be returning to the continent after an absence of two years but still cannot believe how the government wrecked small firms like his with their decision to go for a hard Brexit.
“The sad thing is that small businesses like ours cannot have access to the EU,” he said. “Selling the company is a great solution … it secures the future of the company with a historical cheesemaker.
“But I still feel very let down and bitterly disappointed by the fact I’ve had so many conversations with the Department for International Trade and government ministers and nothing happens.
“They are impotent because of their Brexit policy. They are so anti-Europe they won’t even discuss getting a better deal sorted out. Getting access to the single market has to be the first step.”
Spurrell claims that after his campaign in the press last year to highlight his case, he was told by numerous people that Boris Johnson had referred to him as “that bloody cheese man”.
Government departments advised him to seek out new business in “emerging markets”, counsel he said was risible given the huge market on Britain’s doorstep.
Spurrell founded the business in 2010 selling wax-wrapped truckles of cheese and racked up numerous awards for 15 artisan varieties including cheddar, cheshire and royal blue.
It grew by about 30% a year and by 2019 he had decided to invest £1m in a warehouse in Macclesfield to fulfil orders in Europe for longstanding favourites including Irish whiskey and stem ginger cheddar, a gold winner at the International Cheese Awards.
But when Brexit export rules came into force he was hit with veterinary certificate charges of up to £180 on retail orders to consumers in the EU – even for those buying personal gift packs worth £30 – making his business unviable overnight.
In 2021, the first year of Brexit trading operations, he lost £240,000 in wholesale and consumer business in Europe and was looking at another hold of £350,000 this year.
And although soaring domestic demand during the pandemic cushioned the losses, he could not see a route to return to the single market as a small business.
Spurrell said the alliance with Joseph Heler, a much larger concern, offered strategic means of dealing with costly Brexit trade barriers.
“If you are large enough you can mitigate the increased costs because the cost of the paperwork for one pallet of cheese can be spread across 100 pallets. It will also benefit all the customers in the EU because they can get a local delivery rate,” he added.
He said the deal, which was undertaken for an undisclosed sum, was also great news for his workforce. All head office, production and warehouse staff will be retained while 14 additional full and part-time jobs will be created.
“We were very worried about this Christmas. We didn’t know what was going to happen and my primary thought was for all the guys here with me. They are all now catered for with this fantastic company that we’ve joined … it gives our team a bit of future security.”
George Heler, the group managing director of Joseph Heler, said: “We’re delighted to welcome the Cheshire Cheese Company … Together, we’re confident we can extend its reach across the UK and Europe.”
Recent analysis of trade statistics by the Economic and Social Research Institute shows that trade from the UK to the EU was 16% lower than if Brexit had not happened.