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Tesco supermarket boss warns it will not be possible to store sufficient fresh food in case of a hard Brexit. Library picture: Customers shop at a Tesco supermarket in Hove, 2018. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Tesco and Marks & Spencer have become the latest big names to reveal they are stockpiling packet and tinned foods as retailers’ no-deal preparations move up a gear now that the frenetic Christmas trading period is behind them.
The Tesco chief executive, Dave Lewis, said the supermarket has been holding a special round of talks with its suppliers and increasing stocks of long life groceries. But, with Britain importing about half the fresh food it eats, Lewis said it was not possible to make similar arrangements for fresh food if Britain crashes out of the EU.
“We looked at the lifecycle and production of product categories that matter most to customers and sat down with all suppliers to discuss their production capability, where they hold stock and if we can help them hold it,” explained Lewis. “It’s not possible to do that sort of thing on fresh food, so that’s where the pinch point would be if there were to be a no-deal.”
Supermarket groups, under pressure to keep shelves stocked with hundreds of thousands of product lines, want as little friction as possible at European borders and fear a no-deal Brexit could mean major delays at ports.
Marks & Spencer said its own Brexit planning committee had “upped the ante” and started to make a “few real choices”. The chief executive, Steve Rowe, said: “We have taken some additional long-life stuff but our food business is 70% fresh and anything that slows down will contribute to cost and waste.”
Earlier this week it emerged that Lidl was hiring new customs officers. The job adverts, reported in the Grocer trade magazine, said candidates would need “to take a pragmatic approach to solving problems to ensure out imported products get onto the shelf”.
Companies such as Premier Foods, which owns Bisto, Oxo and Mr Kipling, Majestic Wine and Ornua, the Irish company behind Kerrygold and many cheddar cheese brands, have already announced plans for stockpiling. Frozen and chilled food warehouse space has been running out as worried store chiefs reserve space to store staples such as bread, pizza, butter and potatoes.
Analysts pointed out that in 2018 it only took a few days of heavy snow disruption when the “Beast from the East” hit Britain before gaps opened up on supermarket shelves. They also say that any pinch in supply will likely result in price increases in fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products.
Lewis’s comments echoed those made by the Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe earlier this week. Coupe said a no-deal Brexit would be “hugely disruptive”. Sainsbury’s imports about 30% of its food from continental Europe. “No amount of stockpiling will mitigate that risk, simply because we don’t have the capacity – and neither does the country – to stockpile more than probably a few days’ worth,” said Coupe.