From Camembert to Kinder, How the UK Are Preparing Their Food Supplies
Written by David J Constable
As Britain prepares for a No-Deal E.U. Exit, fears of food shortages have people concerned over the imported foods that have, for many years, been part and parcel of British culinary life. As the possibility of a no-deal Brexit increased after a proposed deal by Minister Theresa May was rejected by the U.K. parliament, many are making preparations by stocking up on necessities imported from the E.U. After all, what is Great Britain without Nutella, Magnum ice creams and macaroni cheese?
A frustrated country has become a panicked one. Can the U.K. import, will they import, will other E.U. countries even allow them to import? This has created food anxiety at home. My goodness, where will all of the Camembert, chicken Kievs and boxes of Ferrero Rocher come from? Will Britain ever see a Kinder Egg again?
Many are taking action, bulk-buying and stockpiling, filling fridges, freezers and basements with essentials and their favourite go-to snack. And, while I haven’t taken hoarding foods (yet), I fear for my balsamic vinegar and Piedmont wines. The gravity of the situation is becoming very apparent.
Currently, the import versus export position of the U.K. is very unbalanced. To put this into perspective, in 2015, the country imported £38.5 billion of food and drink, but only exported £18 billion worth of food. Things are already difficult, and the uncertainty of the future is quite rightly confusing. If indeed, a deal can be agreed and foods allowed to continue their importation, it will, very likely, be at a higher cost to the U.K. public. The likes of Nescafe (14%), Marmite (12%) and Mr Kipling Cakes (5%) have already seen a price increase within the last 12 months.
Last month, Unilever — the British-Dutch transnational consumer goods company — admitted to stockpiling Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and Magnum bars ahead of the UK’s departure from the European Union. The firm’s Leeds factory, which makes Sure, Lynx and Dove, supplies the whole of Europe, while its ice creams are produced on the continent.
The political uncertainty has been reflected in the increasing sales of “Brexit Boxes” – a care package, worth €330, containing dozens of tins of macaroni cheese, pasta bolognese, chicken tikka, sweet and sour chicken, and beef and potato stew, as well as a water filter and a fire starter. The boxes are being sold by James Blake who set up the company Emergency Food Storage U.K. in 2009 with the aim of “making emergency preparedness as simple as possible”. Blake began selling the “Brexit Boxes” in December and is now selling around 25 a day.
Staffing issues have already been affected with many E.U. nationalities worried about their status and leaving industry jobs — kitchens, cooks, the front of house — to return home. As for the ingredients itself, a positive spin could be a more inherit approach to sourcing and cooking, with chefs forced to be more creative with the application of U.K. only produce. A good thing, surely. No more watered-down Danish bacon. Goodbye to Polish mushrooms. See ya later squishy Spanish tomatoes!
All of this begs the question: what will happen to the famed English Breakfast, a meal of incomparable gut-busting perfection, and often assembled via a list of imported E.U. ingredients. It is adaptable, catering to all tastes; the great interchangeable meal with an abundance of choice, the Marilyn Monroe of breakfast — as potent for a hangover as a litre of Alka-Seltzer.
For eggs and toast, the U.K. will be fine. The British egg industry can produce enough for the country to be entirely self-sufficient in eggs. For bread, 85% of the wheat used by U.K. flour millers is homegrown. The flour produced is also from the U.K. with only 2% exported. As for sausages, bacon, tomatoes the news may not be so good. British farmers currently produce only 40% of the pork eaten in the U.K. The other 60% comes from E.U. countries such as Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Baked beans are mostly US imports, but tomatoes grow mostly where it is hot, immediately cancelling out the U.K. — although glasshouses are used.
With the great English Breakfast seemingly under threat and Magnum ice creams about to vanish, the full effect of Brexit is put into a new light. It doesn’t bear thinking about.