With uncertainties over the Brexit deal, we consider what impact leaving the EU could have on restaurants
It’s hard to avoid Brexit right now. Whether you’re listening to the radio in your kitchen, relaxing in front of the TV on your day off or going for after-work drinks with your team, Brexit talk is everywhere.
For those working in the restaurant industry, uncertainties around Brexit might not be having a huge impact right now. But some restaurants are saying that they’re worried.
Of course, it’s difficult to pin down exactly what would happen in a deal, no-deal or a remain scenario. Who knows which we’ll end up with? Even experts and TV pundits struggle to come up with convincing answers as to what might happen. It seems like every time we tune into the news there’s someone trying to present Brexit as either a house of horrors or the land of milk and honey.
But some voices within our industry are concerned with the potential post-Brexit impact on the restaurant and hospitality sector. Not only in terms of attracting EU nationals to come and work in the UK but also around issues like food prices.
As chefs, catering staff and hospitality workers, you probably want to at least have some suggestion as to how Brexit could affect our industry. We did some research so that you can get a better grip on the potential impact of Brexit on restaurants in the UK.
Food prices could increase
One thing that pretty much everyone can agree on is that whatever Brexit deal we get, some food prices are likely to rise. This makes sense. After all, in the previous year, 30% of food imports came from the EU.
Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, suggested in December 2018 that food prices could rise between 5% and 10% once we leave the European Union. At the same time, people are saying similar things within the restaurant and hospitality industry.
A survey of 40 operators with a combined turnover of £58billion produced by Prestige Purchasing, the experts in food and drink value chain, revealed that supply chain leaders have “deep concerns” that there will be an impact on food prices once the UK has left the EU.
73% of respondents think that leaving the EU without a deal would have negative consequences.
But which foods will actually cost more? Recent research published in iNews gives us some understanding. According to the British Retail Consortium, the price of beef could rise between 5% and 29%. Poultry prices could rise by as much as 25%. Even fruit and veg is set to go up in price. The UK Trade Policy Observatory suggests that tomato prices could rise by up to 18%. Broccoli could rise by 10%.
Whichever restaurant, catering or hospitality news source you trust (we would, of course, suggest Blue Arrow), the picture doesn’t look particularly rosy.
Many of you will already be feeling the pain of increasing prices. Since the referendum in 2016, the CGA Prestige Foodservice Price Index showed that food and drink have increased by 11%, due to the drop in the value of the pound.
But perhaps there’s another side to the story? What if we stopped importing so much food from outside the UK? What if we focused our attention on buying local, seasonal produce?
It is, after all, already one of the biggest restaurant and food trends in 2019. Could buying local help to grow the restaurant industry? Could the food we cook be fresher, healthier and at the same time support local producers?
Chefs could start to buy more British produce
Of course, we don’t know the answer to all of those questions right now. But what we can say is that there’s an increasing trend of chefs and catering professionals choosing to put more local produce on their menus.
For those who can remember what it was like to be a chef a couple of decades ago, our menus used to be predominantly based around local produce. Today, however, access to even the most unlikely foodstuffs is easy. We can get pineapples in December and avocados in February. That just wasn’t the case twenty years ago.
Perhaps our industry needs to be thinking about whether we really need these ingredients on our menu at this time of year? Building menus around what’s seasonally available in the UK not only supports local farmers, but it’s better for the planet too. And with restrictions comes creativity. Shipping avocados in the middle of winter begins to sound ridiculous when you think about it for more than a few seconds.
In a similar spirit, some industry professionals are suggesting that Brexit wouldn’t necessarily have a negative impact on the restaurant and catering industry.
As Norman Dinsdale, a senior lecturer at Sheffield Business School with over 40 years experience in the international hospitality industry suggests:
“I’m not suggesting that we return to the dreary potato, cabbage and turnip diet of the post-war years and early 1960s but we should, as a nation, be prepared and able to produce a lot more of our own food, paying our farmers a decent return for their produce”
Wherever you stand on the Brexit divide — whether you voted to leave, you’re a hard-line remainer, or you don’t really care — the consensus seems pretty clear for our industry.
Imported food, particularly from within the EU, will almost inevitably cost more, regardless of the Brexit outcome. But food grown in the UK may not. And I’m sure most of us can agree on one point: fresh, seasonal produce is not only better for the wallet, but it’s also better for paying customers, too.