A move by Diageo to acquire 10 new tankers from a Londonderry firm for its cross-border beer operation has been described as a major vote of confidence in the all-island supply chain in the face of a 'no deal' Brexit.
The alcohol giant behind Guinness, Baileys Irish Cream and Smirnoff Vodka confirmed yesterday that it had bought the new bulk beer tankers from Swatragh-based Crossland Tankers.
It brings to 163 the number in the Guinness fleet, which is operated by Associated Global Logistics (AGL).
Diageo has said that during peak production, its transporters make 240 return trips per week moving beer from the Guinness brewery at St James' Gate in Dublin to its packaging sites in east Belfast and Runcorn, in the north of England.
Despite fears growing over the potential impact on supply chains if the UK and the EU fail to strike a deal in time for Brexit day on March 29 next year, Seamus Leheny of the Freight Transport Association (FTA) welcomed the commitment from Diageo.
"If anything I would say this is a vote of confidence by Diageo in the current all-island supply chain that incorporates transporting bulk Guinness from Dublin to east Belfast for canning," he said.
"Obviously a hard border with a 'no deal' Brexit outcome could ultimately jeopardise such supply chains and the jobs they support here in Northern Ireland, but it's positive thinking from the likes of Diageo that they are still proceeding with investment that is supporting the local economy."
Mr Leheny said both Crossland and Diageo were FTA members.
Speaking yesterday, Diageo Ireland's logistics manager Colm Hughes said: "Diageo is delighted and proud to have sourced these tankers from a local firm.
"As a global leader in beverage alcohol, the transport of our beer is a key priority and these tankers will play an important role in our operations.
"Reliability, innovation and quality are all key considerations when selecting a new tanker fleet and these vehicles have provided all three."
Stephen McFerran from Crossland Tankers added: "We are thrilled to strengthen our long-term association with Diageo through this order.
"All 10 tankers have been built at our Swatragh facility in Co Londonderry. Crossland has been able to incorporate a well proven design with modern manufacturing methods to provide an innovative long-life solution."
Earlier this year, Diageo chief executive Ivan Menezes said trucks belonging to the company make 16,000 journeys a year across the Irish border.
"We want frictionless trade with the EU. We want no border in Ireland, which is what everybody wants," he said.
Among the biggest concerns for Diageo in a 'no deal' scenario will be the production of Irish whiskey-based Baileys.
The bulk volume of the world famous cream liqueur is produced at its plant in Mallusk, Co Antrim, which opened in 2003 and produces around 70% of all Baileys sold worldwide.
Diageo has previously estimated that there are around 5,000 border crossings each year by trucks involved in the direct supply chain for the cream liqueur, including raw milk, cream, whiskey, bottles and corrugated paper.