Glenisk employs more than 75 staff from its base outside Tullamore, Co Offaly. The company uses about 14 million litres of Irish milk annually, sourced from 50 organic dairy farms north and south of the Border, and produces 120 million servings of yogurt each year. Vincent Cleary is managing director of the business.
What was your reaction when you heard the UK had voted to leave the European Union?
Absolute shock. I went to bed thinking all was well in the world and woke up the next day amazed to hear the news. I always saw Britain and London as a counterbalance to the Franco-German side in Europe and I believe Europe will be worse off when Britain leaves.
We are doing a lot of talking and UK buyers are doing a lot of talking again but the hard decisions are being held back until we get some clarity on Brexit.
How is your business likely to be affected?
We have shifted our focus to the continent and have just started business in the Benelux countries. We are actively talking to French and German retailers too and anyone else who will talk to us.
In fairness to the continental Europeans, even though people say there is no sympathy in business, I do see a level of sympathy there for Irish producers. Brexit is a great icebreaker as a conversational piece in the rest of Europe.
We are now sending consignments to the Netherlands that we weren't sending two or three years ago. There's a network of business that the UK now wants to extract themselves from – there was a supply chain coming from the UK and retailers are anticipating a void. We are looking to fill that void.
How much do you rely on raw materials or markets north of the Border? And how much on Britain?
We do a nice bit of business in Northern Ireland and I don’t plan on losing it even if there is a hard Brexit. I think that Northern Ireland will be treated differently and I think it has to be treated differently. Once we know what the problem is, we can negate it.
We have a number of farmers supplying us in Northern Ireland too. They’re nervous, we’re nervous, but I think logic will prevail somehow.
When did you begin preparing for Brexit and what contingency plans have you put in place so far?
The mindset changed the day Brexit was announced. Most of our packing, which is pan-European, is no longer coming from the UK; it’s coming directly from continental Europe. We have taken steps in the event of trucks being delayed at landbridges.
We are overstocked on certain non-perishable items; we will have a buffer of weeks as opposed to months. I anticipate a certain amount of confusion at ports but I see that as temporary – a couple of weeks at most. We may be faced with days of delays but I wouldn’t see that as overly impactful on our business.
Does Brexit present any opportunities for your business?
Brexit has focused a lot of retailers’ minds as to where their products are from. Seventy per cent of all yogurt consumed in Ireland is imported, so we and others have been engaging with the retail trade. We became the number one brand in Ireland for the first time in January.
I think Brexit has also helped focus our customers on what’s Irish when they put their hand up to take down a product from the shelf. If there is a hard Brexit, we will definitely see gaps on shelves, if only temporarily, and I think that will put a spotlight on products that are not manufactured in this country.
What are your best- and worst-case scenarios?
Worst-case scenario is a hard Brexit and confusion at the ports. I suspect that, even in a best-case scenario, there will be a lot of confusion. I think things will resolve themselves within days and that food and pharmaceuticals will be given priority.
I really believe that Brexit is a generation-defining moment. We are living through history insofar as Brexit will be studied for generations to come.
Are you stockpiling goods/raw materials?
We source our milk from the Republic and from Northern Ireland. Our fruit comes predominantly from the continent. It has a slightly longer shelf life than milk so we can put a buffer in place but nothing major. Worst-case scenario is we’ll be selling more natural yogurt than fruited yogurts.
Looking out five years, how do you think your business or industry will have changed as a result of Brexit?
We anticipate that Brexit will have impacted on our business as it has done over the past two years. Our focus will be on continuing to spread our business over several markets without being overdependent on any single market. Fortunately, I am confident that our product portfolio will allow us to do so, catering to multiple customer needs across multiple markets.