Irish food and drink producers’ preparedness for Brexit spikes, as the levels of stockholding doubles

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As the Brexit deadline approaches once more, the Bord Bia Brexit Barometer 2019: Results & Actions, published today, reveals that Irish food and drink firms’ preparedness for Brexit has jumped to 93%.

Pictured launching the Bord Bia Brexit Barometer 2019 to over 150 senior figures from the food and drink industry is Tara McCarthy, CEO of Bord Bia (Pic: Marc O’Sullivan)

The headline figure, which has risen from 74% since the 2018 report, highlights the mutual importance of the relationship between the two long-standing trade partners, as businesses prepare for a number of possible Brexit scenarios.

Despite the impending deadline, the research revealed 57% of respondents reported an increase in sales to the UK and a further 29% reported stable revenues, with 8 out of 10 Irish companies planning to maintain or grow sales in the UK over the coming year.

However, the report also revealed that Irish firms are becoming increasingly concerned by the cost implications of customs compliance and stockholding; potential challenges around logistics; and, consequently, many have halted investment plans due to the continued uncertainty of the evolving Brexit landscape.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr Michael Creed, T.D. launched the report today and addressed a gathering of 150 senior figures from Ireland’s food, drink and agri-business sectors alongside Tara McCarthy, CEO of Bord Bia, and a panel of industry experts from Ireland and the UK.

Bord Bia’s 2019 Brexit Barometer is the third in a series of annual studies that provide a comprehensive measure of Brexit readiness across Ireland’s food and drink sector with findings from 130 companies.  It is the basis and risk diagnostic tool from which Bord Bia offers a tailor-made suite of supports to Ireland’s largest indigenous industry which is uniquely impacted by Brexit.  The UK accounted for 37% (+2%) of all Irish food and drink exports last year, amounting to trade worth €4.5 billion.

Informed by the findings from the 2019 Brexit Barometer, Bord Bia moves into the next phase of Brexit support for industry, focusing on specific services and actions to prepare client companies, including upskilling on Commercial Marketing Strategy development, as well as Key Customer Management. This will complementnew and existing training in critical areas such as customs compliance, logistics and supply chain and currency management.  To date, Brexit related support has been provided by Bord Bia to companies representing 72% of exports to the UK. 

Launching the report, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr. Michael Creed, T.D, said: Amidst the continuing uncertainty around Brexit, this report highlights the true value of preparedness.  My Department, working with Bord Bia, has dedicated considerable resources to ensuring that the unique position of the Irish food and drink industry in all Brexit scenarios is firmly understood.  The coming months will bring another Brexit deadline, but it is encouraging to see that our industry is doing all it can to prioritise what it can control in facing these challenges.”  

Presenting the findings of the 2019 Brexit Barometer, Ms. Tara McCarthy, CEO of Bord Bia, said that it points to a year of emphatic progress as Ireland’s largest indigenous industry prepares for one of its most significant challenges ever.

“With 93% of food and drinks companies that responded to the Barometer, representing 72% of all UK exports, makings plans and taking action, we have witnessed transformative levels of engagement due to two interlinked factors: firstly, the expectation for much of 2018 that a negotiated agreement was finally in sight and, secondly, the return to prominence of a ‘cliff edge’ no deal Brexit which remains a looming threat.  This experience left Irish exporters in no doubt that their future trading relationship with UK customers should be managed as a priority.

“Also strikingly clear from the 2019 data is the spirit of resilience and determination that is at the core of the response from the Irish food industry.  It has been said that there are no net upsides to Brexit for Ireland.  It is a challenging political and economic scenario that puts pressure on the close tie with our nearest neighbour and our largest trading partner.  What the 2019 Brexit Barometer shows is that our industry is attuned to the issues that lie ahead and both realistic and resolute in its response to them. With eight out of ten Irish companies planning to grow or maintain their UK sales, it’s clear that the extensive planning process around Brexit is gaining momentum and translating into concrete actions for the months ahead.”

Key findings from the full report are as follows:

Brexit readiness: 93% have made progress but 68% still uncertain about impact:

·         86% of respondents are clear that Brexit will have an impact on their business but 68% (are still uncertain about what that impact will be.

Customer relationships: stockholding and customs top of agenda for UK customers

·         Irish food and drink firms are now highly engaged with their customers on Brexit planning.  79% have spoken to their customers about Brexit in the past month, rising to 96% in the past 3 months, while many large food and drink firms cite daily conversations with key buyers. Key discussion topics are stockholding (58%), customs duties (47%) and the sharing of general Brexit updates (42%).

·         In the past year, 57% of respondents reported an increase in sales to the UK and a further 29% reported stable revenues.

·         That said, Irish companies are taking a more measured approach to growth projections for the UK due to the continuing uncertainty that prevails. 8 in 10 companies are planning to maintain (36%) or grow (41%) sales in the UK. 

Supply chain: companies fear UK supply chain partners aren’t prepared

·         The number of Irish firms who have actively mapped their supply chain has increased significantly to 89% (62% in 2018). However, there are clear levels of discomfort amongst respondents about how prepared some supply chain partners are. 

·         70% of companies have developed contingency options for holding stock in response to Brexit, with 85% of companies activating those plans.  Stockholding adds a layer of unrecoverable cost for companies and it is important that this is incorporated into financial planning. 

·         Over half (52%) of respondents are holding up to 3 weeks of stock outside of Ireland.  In the lead up to the October Brexit deadline, stockholding will become far more complex due to storage being at full capacity in preparation for busy Christmas trading.

Customs and controls: a doubling in firms now counting the cost of customs

·         The number of Irish companies expressing high or slight confidence in managing customs compliance in the 2019 Brexit Barometer has increased four-fold to 83%, up from 28% last year, and highlights the extensive customs training resources Bord Bia has deployed across the food and drink industry.

·         Food and drink firms are taking many of the practical steps required to be customs ready, evidenced by the 85% of respondents who have applied to the Irish Revenue Commissioners for an EORI number bucking the trend nationally in other sectors, but there is still more to do ahead of the next Brexit deadline. 

·         51% of respondents have now calculated the cost of customs processes and compliance, a doubling on the 25% in 2018. 

Financial resilience: half of companies expect Brexit hit of up to 10% on EBITDA

·         Two thirds (62%) of food and drink firms outlined that Brexit is having an impact on their investment plans, compared to one year ago when half (50%) said that Brexit was having no impact on their plans.  The passing of two Brexit deadlines in March and April is likely to have crystalized Brexit as material risk to which firms responded by tightening future investment.

·         29% of respondents have put investments on hold while 20% have delayed or put operational spend on hold.

·         Brexit costs relating to logistics and supply chain and customs compliance are having the biggest impact on companies’ cost base.  Estimating the financial impact of Brexit is challenging due to uncertainty around the outcome.  However, almost half (45%) of respondent companies expect Brexit to cost them in the region of 1-10% of their profitability.

The Bord Bia Brexit Barometer 2019 measures Brexit preparedness across six key Brexit related issues; customer relationships, supply chain, customs and tariffs, financial resilience, market diversification and emerging issues. The findings of the Barometer inform the Brexit Action Plan which Bord Bia provides to companies to guide and inform their individual Brexit response strategies. The expanded suite of Brexit support services announced by Bord Bia today will be available immediately to companies.