Saturday, 6 Mar 2021

Microwave meals most at risk in post-Brexit supply chains, Tesco warns

Tesco’s boss has suggested ready meals are most at risk from Brexit supply concerns in Ireland. 

Britain’s biggest retailer said it has experienced disruption to supplies, particularly to the island of Ireland, since the trade deal came into force at the start of the year.

But Tesco CEO Ken Murphy said on Thursday that disruption was limited to certain categories of goods, like short shelf life ready meals. He explained: ‘We have seen some limited disruption into the Republic of Ireland and into the north of Ireland, but we’re working very closely with government on both sides of the Irish Sea to smooth the flow of product.

‘The disruption is limited to certain categories, with a particular emphasis on some short shelf life products where every hour, let alone every day, counts… The primary concern is around short shelf life products particularly ready meals and some processed meats.’

It comes amid growing concerns about shortages on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson branded ‘teething problems’ yesterday. 

Mr Murphy said Tesco’s product availability in both Irish markets ‘remains strong’.

He added that he was confident Tesco would have right measures in place to supply Northern Ireland after end of a three month ‘grace period’ on certain rules and regulations with the EU on March 31.

The CEO also used the phrase ‘teething problems’ to describe supply flows from continental Europe to the United Kingdom.

Mr Murphy said: ‘Inevitably there are bedding-in issues, teething issues, that you would expect with any new process that’s been set up at relatively short notice.

‘We’re working our way through those and we would hope over the coming weeks and months that we will end up with a much smoother flow of product.’

Meanwhile, other industry experts warned that shops in Northern Ireland could face further problems unless the EU is prepared to extend the grace period. 

British Retail Consortium director Andrew Opie said that problems which had resulted in a shortage of some food products on December 31 had largely been overcome.

But he cautioned that there could be fresh difficulties in April when a series of exemptions on goods being moved to Northern Ireland from Great Britain comes to an end.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mr Johnson told MPs on the Commons Liaison Committee: ‘The situation in Northern Ireland is that trade is flowing smoothly, as I understand it.

‘And exporters are benefiting from the unfettered access between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

‘Yes, I am not going to deny down that there are teething problems, and there are issues that we need to sort out… but the deal has been of great, great assistance to our businesses in smoothing this.’

He added that the Government would invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol – which allows it to impose safeguards – if serious issues arise.

But Mr Johnson claimed it would be ‘absurd’ if such problems do return. 

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