Irish Sea border sees hundreds of items disappear from corner shops

About 100 small corner shops and larger convenience stores face losing more than 400 items from their shelves because of the Irish Sea border, the News Letter can reveal.

Tuesday, 26th January 2021, 6:25 pm
Nisa shops will no longer be able to get 454 chilled products from GB, the company has told its 100 stores in Northern Ireland

In the latest evidence of the reality of the border which Secretary of State Brandon Lewis continues to insist does not exist, Nisa has written to the shops it supplies in Northern Ireland to make clear that the new Irish Sea border is the reason for its decision.

In the letter to the independent stores in Northern Ireland which trade under the Nisa brand, the English company told them that it was due to the “added bureaucracy” which now faces British companies when they seek to trade with Northern Ireland.

The letter, which was sent last Monday and was marked ‘urgent’, said: “In summary there are 454 products (attached) that Nisa will no longer be able to supply you from this Thursday onwards.”

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The items are mostly chilled items – now the trickiest category of food to move from GB to Northern Ireland.

Many of the 454 products are Co Op brand. The Co Op, which owns Nisa, has a major presence in Northern Ireland and the News Letter asked it if it was having problems supplying its own stores in the province. It responded that “alternative sourcing and supply arrangements” may be necessary because of the border.

Co-op said that the government had extended its grace period, meaning that its decision did not need to be taken immediately.

It said: “We are committed to serving both Co-op members and shoppers and our Nisa partners in Northern Ireland. Like many other food retailers, we face some challenges in supplying certain products to the region.

“While products continue to be supplied as normal to both Co-op stores and Nisa partners, we are preparing for the time when full checks come into force, and at this stage, we may include alternative sourcing and supply arrangements for affected products.”

Pat Lenegan, Nisa’s regional retail manager for Ireland, told Nisa shops in Northern Ireland: “The UK’s exit from the EU means we, like the major supermarkets, face new challenges in supplying products to Northern Ireland from mainland Great Britain because of the new border arrangements and added bureaucracy which requires more stringent product certification.”

The company insisted that it was “well prepared and committed to helping you serve shoppers in Northern Ireland”.

It said that while a ‘grace period’ is in place regarding some of the new border checks, from January 25 – yesterday – “new border control checks means supply of products in the following categories will be affected. These are: frozen or chilled minced meat of poultry and wild game birds, chilled minced meat from animals other than poultry, chilled meat preparations, any unprocessed meat produced from meat initially imported into GB from the EU.”

The company insisted that “these changes only account for a small proportion of our volume into Northern Ireland” and said it had “sourced alternative suppliers for some of the lines which will be available on a direct to store basis for partners in Northern Ireland”.

That echoes the position of Sainsbury’s, which earlier this month also withdrew huyndreds of products previously sold in Northern Ireland and replaced some of them with the own-brand produce of a smaller rival supermarket, Spar.

Although that means a loss of choice for consumers – something likely to accelerate as more and more companies realise the significance of the new trade frontier – DUP leader Arlene Foster welcomed that move, saying that she did not see it as negative that Sainsbury’s was now buying from a local company.

Marks and Spencer also withdrew hundreds of items on a temporary basis due to the new border but last week the company told the News Letter than most of those products are now on sale.

Full checks on supermarket produce will not begin until April 1, meaning that the full scale of the problem is not yet clear.

Last week Brandon Lewis insisted that the reason for shelves emptying in Northern Ireland since the start of January was not the new border which he claims is non-existent, but was due to covid and other issues. However, a fellow cabinet minister then contradicted Mr Lewis – as did the Irish government.

In Parliament last week the secretary of state again sought to play down the difficulties created by the internal UK regulatory and customs border which began on January 1 and which involves a host of expensive new red tape for GB companies selling to Northern Ireland.

Speaking during NI Questions in the Commons last week, Mr Lewis said it was “important that we don’t overstate some of the issues” but accepted “that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been issues; I appreciate that there have been challenges”.

He said it was important to find a “permanent solution” at the end of the three-month grace period for moving items containing anything of animal origin from GB to NI from April 1.

Sausages, pate and haggis among items to vanish

The full list of 454 chilled items withdrawn from Nisa stores in Northern Ireland has been obtained by the News Letter.

The massive list of products includes breaded ham, Brussels Pate, Cumberland sausages, caesar salad dressing, lasagne, haggis, Scotch eggs, and a host of types of bacon.

Among the items no longer being sent across the Irish Sea are well known British brands such as Fray Bentos Steak & Kidney pies and Birds Eye beef burgers.

The items withdrawn also include specialist Polish and halal lines.

Even items which may well originate on the continent – such as German bratwurst and Frankfurter sausages – are on the list, presumably because even if made in the EU they are transported to a central distribution centre in GB and thus have to negotiate the Irish Sea border.

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