t’s been reported that 15 per cent of Marks & Spencer’s food product lines could be unavailable in Northern Ireland from January 1st as a no-deal Brexit looms.
Marks & Spencer told BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme that “retailers need urgent answers from government on several aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol, particularly on certification processes and labelling.
“Whilst we have extensive contingency plans in place, if clarity is not given soon there is a risk to supply from the UK mainland, which could limit customer choice in Northern Ireland.”
From 1 January, Northern Ireland will stay in the EU single market for goods but the rest of the UK will leave.
Products of animal origin – meat, milk, fish and eggs – need an an Export Health Certificate (EHC) to enter the single market.
EHCs are an expensive piece of administration, signed off by a vet, which could add thousands of pounds of cost to of a typical supermarket shipment.
A further problem is that for some products deemed high risk by the EU, such as chilled mince or sausages, no EHCs are available. Those products could not be shipped from Britain to Northern Ireland but could be sourced locally, or from within the EU.
“If no Free Trade Agreement is signed there will be further costs for all UK food retailers”
When reporting its half-year results this month, M&S said, “There remains significant uncertainty regarding the near-term outlook in relation to both Covid and Brexit…”
“A key focus in Food has been managing the administrative changes to import from the EU and moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and our European markets.
“We have invested in technology that will support us in tracking goods and providing the information required for the new customs and certification requirements… We have also created a single export centre in Motherwell to manage goods movements from Great Britain to the island of Ireland.
“The increased administration will result in additional costs for both our Food and International businesses.
“If no Free Trade Agreement is signed with the EU there will be further costs for all food retailers in the UK which will likely affect retail pricing.
“There would also be a potential further reduction in the profitability of our International businesses. In particular this could have a material impact on our businesses in the Republic of Ireland and the Czech Republic and on our franchise food stores business in France.”
The retailer has also announced a new focus on sustainability solutions, including soya-alternative proteins for plant-based foods and the latest in material science to reduce plastic packaging.
A nine-strong Innovation Hub team will start in January.
Stuart Machin, M&S Food’s Managing Director, said, “The team will play a key role in helping us to build an even bigger and better food range and show customers that we’re taking action to address the sustainability issues they care about most — so that our actions today protect the planet for tomorrow.”
The Innovation Hub will partner with technology-led businesses such as 3F Bio to expand its Plant Kitchen range. This uses 3F Bio’s mycoprotein ABUNDA, made from a natural fungus and produced using a zero-waste process.