Sausage wars are out of proportion, meat company says
It’s not every day that you hear your business name verified in the House of Commons.
Last week SDLP chief Colum Eastwood challenged Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis on “all the talk about sausages and protocol” and what the UK government was doing to promote the benefits of the Irish Protocol from North for local producers. “Can he tell the people of Derry what exactly he and Lord Frost think is wrong with Doherty’s sausages?” Eastwood asked.
Although Lewis duly pointed out his penchant for ‘quality’ Northern Irish sausages, he stressed that the protocol ‘was causing real disruption and real problems for businesses and consumers in Northern Ireland’.
Listening in Derry, James Doherty of the aforementioned company, Doherty’s Meats, described it as “surreal” and a “good take … it was a surprise for a Wednesday afternoon but you will be advertising where we can get it “.
Yet, of the high-profile “sausage wars”, he says, “we see it as out of proportion”. He says their experience of the first six months of the protocol was not a disadvantage, but an opportunity.
“It’s frustrating because we can see the potential and the benefits that are out there. We have access to these markets now after Brexit, which makes Northern Ireland an attractive place for businesses to invest. ”
In the six months since the protocol went into effect, the sausages have been used by its opponents as a symbol for all that is wrong. The protocol avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland by placing a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
That customers in Northern Ireland cannot buy sausages – or other chilled processed meat products – made in Britain, they say, not only demonstrates the economic hardship caused by the protocol, but also undermines its place. in the union by treating its businesses and consumers differently from those elsewhere in the UK.
Extended grace period
Last week’s temporary truce kicked the box off, as the EU and UK agreed to extend the grace period around the importation of these products by three months. While further grace periods covering thousands of food items are also set to end in October, Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director Aodhán Connolly spoke of the “real frustration” in the business world.
“We need both parties to live up to their commitments and find a pragmatic solution to ensure that NI consumers continue to have access to both the choice and affordability of the foods they need and, once again, hurry up. ”
Writing in that diary on Saturday, Lewis and UK Brexit Minister Lord David Frost argued that a “seriously imbalanced situation” was developing in the way the protocol worked and the way forward was “to find a new balance of arrangements, adapted to practical reality ”.
At Doherty’s Meats, this practical reality has been positive. Based in Derry, their ‘heart’ is in the north-west, but their distribution network covers all of Northern Ireland and County Donegal, with supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Spar and SuperValu as main customers.
Since Brexit, they have spread; two supermarkets have taken additional product lines and are in talks with another large UK supermarket.
“Some supermarkets saw it as an option to supply us, possibly due to the scarcity of what they weren’t able to bring from GB,” Doherty says.
“It’s been really good, it has helped build our brand, and being based locally here in Derry has allowed us to try and build our volumes.
All of their meat is local – on both sides of the border. This meant that his company was “ideally placed” to benefit from the protocol, as he readily acknowledges.
Challenges and opportunities
At Finnebrogue Artisan in Downpatrick, County Down, the company’s chief strategy officer, Jago Pearson, says Brexit “has presented us with challenges and opportunities, challenges we have overcome and opportunities we need. still largely grasp ”.
The company makes sausages, bacon and burgers as well as new plant-based products and supplies all major UK supermarkets. “Brexit has not significantly hampered this process,” says Pearson.
The challenges were to bring in raw materials from Britain and the potential opportunities include new trade deals aimed at lowering the cost of food for some consumers.
“We are certainly exploring opportunities on the export side every day, including to the European continent, and we are very positive about the outlook. ”
Whether the past six months have brought opportunities or challenges – or a mix of the two – depends a lot on the nature of the business and where its supply chains come from, says Connolly.
Companies are reorienting and adapting; Figures from the Central Statistics Office showed that Northern Ireland’s exports to the Republic rose 60 percent to over € 1 billion from January to April, and exports from the south to the north increased increased 40 percent, while Britain’s exports to the Republic fell 39 percent.
“Retailers are still trying to put together a new way of trading, not only from GB to NI but from EU to GB, and we still haven’t seen the final iteration of what the new normal will be,” says Connolly.
“We need certainty and stability,” he stresses. “We’re always trying to find this new normal and how we make the most of it. ”