The first month after the UK officially left the EU was a month of changing regulations, continued uncertainty, and delayed shipments. We caught up with Gemma from our Export team to understand what obstacles Brexit put in our way and the effect on our European customers.
Contrary to what people might think about a business specialising in selling British cheese and working with British producers, Brexit hasn't been smooth sailing for Neal’s Yard Dairy. In our London shops, customers often ask whether our business may do well out of Brexit, but the reality is quite different.
We export a lot of our cheese to Europe, with the majority of our wholesale customers in France, Spain, and Italy. But in the face of new (and fluctuating) regulations, the logistics of supplying these valued customers become a real challenge. Transporters who can manage the complexities of shipping animal products to the EU are hard to find, shipping costs are impossible to forecast, and then there's navigating the regulatory guidance on the shipping of products of animal origin and which, when not followed to the letter, risks delays.
Shipping delays and increased transit times are an important factor when shipping cheese. Cheese is a preserved food that keeps well over a few days in transit under the correct conditions. It used to take just 3-4 days for a shipment of cheese to get from us to its European destination. One month post-Brexit and it was taking up to 12 days. This had the effect of significantly reducing the range of products we could send our European customers if we were to maintain our high standards of quality.
All of these complicating factors added up to a delay of over six weeks in sending our first post-Brexit shipment to the EU. In time, this should become more manageable, and we will adapt to the new regulations. Indeed, if nothing else, 2020 provided excellent hands-on training in persevering through difficulties and adapting to ever changing circumstances.
One thing that remains unchanged is our appreciation for our wonderful suppliers and wholesale customers who we are working alongside as we all navigate the post-Brexit landscape. Our growing pains are being met with incredible patience and understanding, and we feel truly grateful.