In the final part of her series our Business Editor looks at at how big firms struggled
Northern Ireland faced a possible Coco-Pops shortage as a lack of paperwork to meet the NI Protocol held up Kellogg’s products in Great Britain, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Kellogg’s, one of the most famous companies in the world, was among those to find themselves affected for the worse by the protocol.
Yet others in Northern Ireland, such as sandwich maker Deli-Lites, have benefited from the controversial trading arrangement.
Talks between the UK and EU on ironing out some of the problems with the protocol are to resume shortly.
Global cereal maker Kellogg’s was among food manufacturers who were unprepared for a new era of document checks in Great Britain when the protocol began in January 2021.
As a trading arrangement, the protocol has kept Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods following Brexit, in order to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
But that has ushered in document checks in Great Britain, before products leave a port, and physical checks and customs on items when they land in Northern Ireland.
While many companies such as supermarkets were fairly well-prepared for the checks, others, such as Kellogg’s, were caught out.
One observer, who did not want to be named, told the Belfast Telegraph: “Kellogg’s didn’t have a Scooby-doo about what to do, and literally for three weeks in January no Kellogg’s products came to Northern Ireland.
“But the only reason it wasn’t noticed in the shops is that since cereal is an ambient product, a lot of it is stored in a warehouse in Larne anyway because it doesn’t go off.
“For that reason, people didn’t notice, but there were no Coco-Pops or Cornflakes coming in here for a couple of weeks just because Kellogg’s were caught on the back foot.
“Businesses big and small just weren’t prepared for sending stuff to NI. It was a quick learning curve.”
Kellogg’s did not respond to a request for comment. But it is understood its problems were rapidly addressed and the flow of supplies in Northern Ireland was resumed.
The protocol brought problems for other companies, such as online retail giant Amazon, homeware retailer Wayfair, exercise bike firm Peloton and department store John Lewis.
They all found themselves under-prepared for the new rules or simply no longer permitted to ship in the same goods as before.
However, both John Lewis and Peloton resumed deliveries after a few months. But Wayfair has stopped shipping to Northern Ireland, with its website stating that it delivers “to most of the UK”.
John Lewis said that “we still deliver to Northern Ireland with the exception of larger items and continue to monitor the situation”.
Meanwhile, Amazon is still restricting the delivery of certain items, and some perfumes cannot be delivered here.
Yet there have also been trading opportunities for Northern Ireland companies.
Brian Reid, co-owner of sandwich maker Deli-Lites in Warrenpoint, Co Down, has seen his firm pick up orders with retail chains and supermarkets in Great Britain.
He now has contracts with Asda, Boots and the Co-op which he did not have before, because the protocol has left it harder for those businesses to ship over items like ready-made sandwiches across the Irish Sea from their existing suppliers in Great Britain.
Mr Reid said that while the economy was facing other non-protocol challenges, such as rising costs and labour shortages, “economically over the longer term it should have huge advantages”.
“For manufacturers and producers in the north with the access to the different markets, we’re in a real prime position to take advantage of it if we can access the labour to support it.”
Companies it had bought goods from before in Great Britain were “rationalising their ranges and they’re not knocking the door to supply Northern Ireland...
“But the advantages outweigh that as there is alternative supply in Ireland and we are lucky enough that we can get supply here and we can get ingredients.”
He added: “We’re supplying more customers in the south and we’re getting more raw materials from the south and we’ve found some more suppliers there that we didn’t even know were there.”
Business was growing from Great Britain, too, Mr Reid said.
He added: “It’s hard to put a figure on it but this year alone we secured business with Co-op, Asda and Boots, who are three UK-based multiples with a presence here in Northern Ireland. We’re very happy and it’s been a really good year.”
Mr Reid said the protocol, if problems with it were resolved, would be a positive. “If it’s marketed well and economically we’re allowed to take advantage of where we are, and if things can settle down between the UK and Europe and they can agree, I don’t see it being anything but positive.”
He said he will be growing his workforce from 250 to 300, partly as a result of the new business.