Brexit stockpiling can't protect us from fresh food shortages

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Waitrose warehouse

We’ve heard lots of stories about suppliers stockpiling for Brexit, but supermarkets? That’s a whole new chapter

No more Mars bars? I’ll buy a Bounty instead,” suggested Jane Moore, The Sun’s answer to Marie Antoinette, this week.

But it’s not Mars bars or Bounties that will be the problem in the event of a no-deal Brexit. We can stockpile those and other ambient lines. And many are, although as we report, warehouse space is running out even for nonperishable goods, let alone frozen and chilled space.

It’s fresh ingredients that are the biggest worry.

And the timing could not be worse. March is arguably the darkest hour in terms of Britain’s self-sufficiency, when the fresh autumn and winter reserves have been used up, and before Britain’s market garden has really sprung into life.

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Of course, we can change our menus and diets, and in the no-deal planning that’s playing out, that’s what many are preparing to do up to a point. But the idea that Britain is ready to eat seasonally again is ridiculous.

You only need to look at the panic that greeted the winter salad shortages in 2017 and 2018 to see that.

As well as shortages, there’s also the cost. Extra warehousing is expensive - and the price is soaring. It also places pressure on cashflow. And as well as the much-discussed uncertainty, there’s an added cost (and waste) if perishable goods go off. And finally there’s the inflationary impact of a no-deal scenario on sterling. These costs will have to be passed on to consumers. And they won’t like that.

The supermarkets have said precious little about Brexit. And when asked about contingency planning, they have simply pointed out that you can’t stockpile fresh food. How true. But it’s surely significant that supermarkets are now reserving all their own warehouse space, which they normally free up after Christmas. We’ve heard lots of stories about suppliers stockpiling goods: ABF, Premier, Greencore and Mondelez have all gone on record as such. It’s reached the point where, for us, it’s not even a story when a supplier says it’s stockpiling. This week, Majestic too admitted it was making plans. But supermarkets stockpiling? That’s a whole new chapter.

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