Flour imports from Britain, the main market for flour for Irish bakeries, have fallen sharply as businesses seek alternative supplies from Northern Ireland and the European Union due to Brexit.
The National Association of British and Irish Millers (Nabim) has estimated that British flour exports into the Republic have fallen by up to 25 per cent since the start of this year.
The two mills in Northern Ireland – Allied and Andrews – have taken up about a third of this business lost by Britain with mills in other parts of the EU such as in France and Germany accounting for the remaining two-thirds of the British flour revenue lost because of Brexit.
Tariffs on flour milled from more than 15 per cent Canadian and other non-EU wheat along with disrupted transport routes between Ireland and Britain due to Brexit-related Border checks since January 1st have forced some Irish bakeries to look elsewhere for their flour.
Alex Waugh, director general of Nabim, also known as UK Flour Millers, said that some Irish bakeries looked elsewhere for flour prior to Brexit to ensure there was uninterrupted supply.
“Some bakeries took the decision in December, or before, to shift to sourcing from the EU because they felt that they knew where they were that way,” he said.
Irish bakeries still importing from Britain have either chosen to pay the €172 per tonne tariff on flour if the flour comes from wheat sourced from a third country or in some cases the flour is reformulated to bring the third-country wheat content down to 15 per cent to avoid tariffs.
Bakeries also avoid tariffs as a large amount of bread made by British-sourced flour is re-exported back to Britain once they can show that the product never enters the EU market.
“The advantage of buying flour from mills in Northern Ireland is that you don’t have to deal with any of that. You can buy what you want and there is no paperwork,” said Mr Waugh.
“That is quite an attractive proposition but the mills in the North are at full capacity; they could never meet the whole demand of the Republic so there is still a lot of flour coming into Ireland.”
Surge in NI imports
There has been a surge in imports from Northern Ireland into the Republic since Brexit came into operation in January. There was an increase of 81 per cent in the import of cereals and cereal preparations, which includes flour, in the first three months of the year compared with last year.
Brendan Coghlan, owner of Coghlan's Bakery in Co Kildare, said he has stopped buying flour from Liverpool since Brexit and has sourced alternative supplies from Andrews in Belfast.
“The number of deliveries we get now is twice what we used to get so it is no problem for the North to deliver to us four or five times a week. It is far better to get it from the North,” he said.
He still imports some organic flour from Britain but he is going to swap to a Polish supplier.
“Dealing with Britain across everything is unpredictable. We had flour held up in customs for five days, which is a long time in the bakery business for no reason other than it was on a group load. It wasn’t the flour that was held up; it was the other load that was held up,” he said.
Mills in Northern Ireland are already considering adding extra capacity to meet higher demand for flour from the Republic as a consequence of Brexit, he said.
“We are very happy to be dealing with Andrews in Northern Ireland at the moment,” he said
“The logistics from the UK is a bit of a nightmare.”