Marks and Spencer (M&S) is trying to source more product locally for its Irish stores after running into trouble with post-Brexit export controls on food.
The retailer said it is “gradually increasing” the range of products it can supply to Irish stores as it sources more products locally and gets to grips with the “complex checks” brought about by the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Post-Brexit rules and what the company has called excessive paperwork forced M&S to cut about 800 lines from its stores in the Republic, roughly 20 per cent of its total range of goods here.
It’s understood the number has fluctuated throughout depending on a number of factors, including seasonal lines.
The “long and complex export processes” following Britain’s departure from the European Union have made it difficult to supply the stores from the UK, the London-based company has said.
The post-Brexit issues M&S has run into involve the strict regulations controlling the export of food from Britain, where much of the chain’s chilled products are made, into the EU.
The retailer says the rules are leading to border delays, making items with short shelf lives, such as freshly made sandwiches, fruit and vegetables unsellable. Organic products are also understood to pose difficulties.
M&S must give a minimum of 24 hours’ notice that a product is on a truck before it can send it across the Irish Sea. It says it then waits for between 24 and 48 hours for the lorry to clear customs in Larne or Belfast.
By the time the food gets into storage, many sandwiches, for instance, are past their sell-by-date.
Other items affected include complex products consisting of multiple ingredients. For example, the company says, a meal containing ingredients such as pork, beef, milk, cheese and yoghurt would hypothetically involve up to five different sets of paperwork to be completed.
The paperwork can be complicated, it says, requiring the listing of the types of animals the meat has come from, and even the Latin names of products.
If small mistakes are made, such as a supplier signing a name in the wrong colour pen, M&S says, the products cannot be sent. If a single problem with the paperwork is discovered, an entire truckload of product is stopped and may end up being destroyed, it says.
Other items affected include those banned from entering the EU, such as “free range chicken, burgers, orchids and any product containing Parmigiano Reggiano”, a spokesman for M&S told The Irish Times on Friday.
M&S culled the lines to the Republic in January in what had initially been understood to be a temporary supply issue. On Friday, it said it has been slowly reintroducing some as it gets to grips with the new procedures.
“We reduced the range in January but we have gradually been increasing it through better understanding of the complex checks and increasing local sourcing in Ireland,” he said.
Outlets in Northern Ireland are not affected as there are currently no checks taking place on products from Britain to the North.
In terms of why M&S is so badly affected if other UK food retailers such as Tesco do not have similar issues, the spokesman said that it was "really a question for Tesco", but added the retailer was "increasing our local sourcing in Ireland to mitigate issues at the border".
One reason why M&S may be so badly affected could be because it has more concentrated supply chains than some of its competitors.
It is also possible that its competitors can bring products straight into Ireland from European markets without the checks that are necessary coming from Britain.