How Is Brexit Going to Change Our Groceries?

By Nidhi Pattni

The United Kingdom deciding to withdraw from the European Union has been endlessly on the news and debated about on social media. There are some who think this was a smart move and long overdue, a large number of people fumed by this decision and some – mostly local farmers – have changed their mind after seeing the first consequences of the move. Indeed, there is a widespread concern among several groups in the country who feel like their lives will be significantly altered by Brexit.

Nonetheless, not all farmers are worried about how their livelihoods will be impacted. Many of them believe that Brexit is a positive move as now there will be more opportunities to open up to different markets. Besides, they strongly have faith that the UK can and will prosper without EU regulations. For example, a couple in Cheshire, owning a dairy farm, was struggling due to the drop of milk prices, but was saved by the Middle East political climate as a blockade was formed against Qatar. The country urgently needed milk supplies because their supermarket shelves were running low, which led to the exportation of milk from farms, such as the one owned by this couple, to Qatar (in their hour of desperation).

However, many farmers do not see the ‘divorce’ between the UK and the EU as a positive change. The National Farmers Union (NFU) has a system which measures how farmers are feeling. It uses a scale that is based on how confident the farmers are with the current situation in the country. Indeed, after the EU referendum the confidence levels hit a slump: one in five farmers was reluctant to make future investments. What’s more? They feared that with the end of the free trade between the UK and the rest of the EU, the trade tariffs imposed on exports would severely damage their profits. Additionally, there is a widespread concern among farmers: if the UK opens up the trade to low-cost and competitive countries, they could lose out on their products sales.

So, what does this mean for us when it comes to our groceries?

The food industry in the UK is heavily dependent on imports from other EU countries. However, to ensure that everything runs smoothly, if there is no deal in place before March 2019, we will have to bear the brunt in the form of higher prices and possibly fewer choices at our local supermarkets. This would be devastating as Britain is known to have a wide range of good-quality products in its aisles and now, with all the changes being made, there is the fear that many of the foods we are used to buy may no longer be available.

Already after the announcement of the ballot in June 2016, the value of the pound dropped, prices of supermarket products increased, and wages significantly decreased resulting in lower average income. Yet, the high street brands such as Sainsburys and Tesco are likely to bear the consequences more than other supermarkets that offer cheaper products e.g. Aldi and Lidl. Years ago, these latter had a reputation of only catering to members of low income families, therefore, were frowned upon by other shoppers. Today, these are the stores benefitting the most from the Brexit Referendum. Indeed, their limited shelf options and lower prices, that once only drew in a limited number of people, are now attractive to thousands of Brits.

As more people have switched to Aldi and Lidl, their sales shot up and, as a result, they began to increase their range of fresh products to meet the consumers’ needs. Additionally, they have been forming healthy relationships with British farmers, which is putting them at an advantage as opposed to their competitors.

Thinking about what everyday life will be like, the post-Brexit Referendum is stressful as we don’t know what to expect from it. Is Britain going to use this new-found independence from the EU shackles to its advantage and explore its own potential? Or will we be in a state of chaos with higher prices and lower quality of goods? Only time will tell… On one hand, it is important at this stage to try and be optimistic about what this decision might bring. On the other, staying up to date with all the new information being released is crucial to be ready and prepared when the time comes (supposedly March 2019).