M&S reviews future of French stores amid Brexit delivery delays

Retailer reassures Irish market it will continue to operate here despite concerns over EU import checks

M&S said in July that some of its festive product range will not be available at Irish stores  this Christmas because of the risk that fresh food will be impeded under cross-border arrangements

M&S said in July that some of its festive product range will not be available at Irish stores this Christmas because of the risk that fresh food will be impeded under cross-border arrangements

 

Marks and Spencer is reviewing the future of its 20 French stores after border delays caused by post-Brexit customs arrangements hit deliveries of UK-made fresh and chilled foods such as its popular sandwiches. But the group said there was no threat to the group’s Irish outlets.

It is the latest fallout from more onerous customs requirements since the UK left the EU and opted not to pursue regulatory alignment in areas including food safety.

Back in May, reporting annual results, the group reported £16 million of costs linked to what chief executive Steve Rowe called the “horrific” administrative burden of Brexit, which was particularly affecting supplies to stores in Ireland, France and the Czech Republic.

M&S said on Monday: “In light of the new customs arrangements we are taking decisive steps to reconfigure our European operations and have already made changes to food export into [the] Czech Republic.”

Asked whether the review on the back of EU restrictions would have implications for Marks & Spencer’s Irish stores, a spokeswoman said the current review was specific to France.

“We are not reviewing the Irish business,” she said. “The [EU] checks have had an impact on our food operations on the island of Ireland, and we are implementing multiple medium-term solutions to stabilise the business in both the North and the Republic.”

The retailer said in July that some of its festive product range will not be available at Irish stores – including those in Northern Ireland – this Christmas because of the risk that fresh food will be impeded under cross-border arrangements.

“We operate a franchise business in France, and are currently undertaking a review of the model with our two partners in the market.”

This year the company replaced fresh and chilled foods in its 18 Czech stores with frozen foods and other items with a longer shelf life following problems with deliveries of fresh products.

M&S may have to close some of its stores in France, which are operated by franchise partners Lagardère and SFH Invest, or stop selling sandwiches and chilled food there, according to the Mail on Sunday, which first reported the review.

Paperwork

Food and drinks crossing from the UK to the EU now face complex paperwork requirements including vet-certified export health certificates for animal products and information about the origins of ingredients in combined foods.

While initial tailbacks and days-long delays at the border have abated, the additional requirements are still proving difficult to accommodate within “just-in-time” supply chains and for chilled foods.

M&S chair Archie Norman predicted problems in 2018, telling the Financial Times that “if our lorries are sitting in a lorry park near Dover for half a day that would be the demise of the great M&S sandwich in Paris”.

M&S said in May this year it would accelerate an overhaul of its store estate after reporting a loss of £209 million for the year to April 3rd following a hit from pandemic restrictions. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021