James Wellock’s Seasonal Approach to Brexit Planning

As the New Year gets under way, sharply on the horizon is Brexit and what will this mean for the fresh food industry. Not knowing what, or if any, deal is to be done at this stage is really a problem for all parties.

For the short-term, I feel that planning for the worst possible outcome – no deal and resulting long border delays – is the only way to approach this until we know more. And this is what we have been doing at Wellocks.

We have planned ahead to create as much stability in terms of price, delivery and supply as we can. We have locked into the euro to manage risk and provide protection against currency movements massively affecting prices. We have put purchase orders in place to cover us for three months on all our fleet needs such as all major spare parts for our fleet including tyres.

For all European dry stores and frozen goods, we have initiated a three-month purchase order. For fresh produce from Europe, an initiative launched earlier last year has already given us a major advantage. Starting this winter we put direct trucks in place from all of our growers in Spain. The resulting freshness has been amazing so we are confident that a potential border delay of a couple of days would not materially reduce the quality. Costs would increase however as hauliers will need to be paid for idle trucks.

If trucks are going to be held up for longer then we have a real problem because there are no alternatives to the fresh products from Europe which the UK relies on throughout the winter months. Twenty years ago, there were alternative supply options from Israel and some African countries but this trade has been well and truly taken over by Europe – namely Spain – in winter and alternative export crops are simply not available now.

The way to plan for this scenario is to rethink winter and early spring menus, champion the traditional and use seasonal UK-grown vegetables and fruits. Getting creative with winter staples and buying UK products is a real option. So kitchens need to stop hankering after spring/summer produce, stop ordering strawberries 365-days a year and think about what they can do with what’s available at home.

And at Wellocks that’s a lot of produce. Over the past 10 years, we have developed a UK network of fresh produce suppliers that’s the best in the country. We’ve even gone a step further working with and investing in UK farmers to develop more produce such as home-grown tender-stem and purple sprouting broccoli, artichokes, mesclun mixed leaf and kohlrabi. This is a local harvest that’s only going to get better, fresher and more varied as the years go by.

For the short, medium and long-term, utilising this network of fabulous producers is, for me, the best way forward.

Let’s start with cheese, for example. With over 150 UK-made cheeses, there is no need to have any European ones. Parmesan is an exception but with a long shelf life this is less of an issue.

In terms of fresh UK products for the winter months, tender pink rhubarb is still available. For local veg, there’s beetroot, kale, carrots and dare I say it swede as against Spanish cauliflower and broccoli. April signals the start of the asparagus season but availability is dependent on us having a warm sunny spring for the stalks to be ready in early April.

Salad and berries are the main issues chefs could face over the next few months; as there are no like for like UK alternatives for tomatoes, salad leaves, peppers, spinach, and rocket. There are no UK berries until May for strawberries and June for the rest, although frozen berries may be an option for desserts and drinks. Our limes are air freighted from Mexico so they can be used as an alternative to Spanish lemons and oranges for citrus flavours.

Throughout January, we will be sending out newsletters to highlight UK produce that we will have available to help drive a menu change. For the longer term, this may be good thing as chefs will have to look outside the box and by utilising UK products could increase margins. Sometimes it is just too easy to keep buying those strawberries whatever the season…