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Brexit revisited

Alan McGrath
National Organiser, Health Stores Ireland

"How is it working for you? Brexit, that is.

"UK readers have their country back. When Nigel declared from his victorious balcony that “today is independence day” I could feel some of his pride and emotion. It’s the centenary of our national Irish independence and our subsequent brutal and divisive national self-imploding.

"While we didn’t quite rise to the level of great, we did eventually settle our quarrels and find our place in the world. So we understand the emotions.

"But back to the matter at hand, Brexit and how is it going for all of us?

"After a few weeks of breaking news around sackings, resignations, U-turns, administrations and acquisitions where two independent wholesalers amongst us changed their ownership status and one of our governments changed its mind and its leader, it gave leave for Irish retailers to ponder the market.

"When the corporate smoke had blown over and the dust had settled it had become clear that the once “joined at the hip” status that we held with our UK brethren is truly fractured.

"Yes, we have some dogged and persevering brand-holders who have managed against the might of an overly EU-focused Irish establishment to continue a relatively seamless flow of goods, but there have been notable casualties too. Our main Irish-based wholesalers have toiled hard to maintain most of the established brands, but many smaller UK producers have been squeezed out by the third country status.

"Access to the larger UK-based distributors is now beyond the capability of most Irish retailers. This has even had some unintended but foreseeable consequences on stores in Northern Ireland. Terms like “certificate of origin” and “designated contact” have become the bane of both importers and exporters.

"The ability of Irish retailers to source direct supply from the UK is compromised beyond repair. Irish retailers have become fully reliant on the handful of Irish wholesalers who, to their ultimate credit, have maintained much of the same choice and familiarity that is essential to holding on to our consumers while continuing to avail ourselves of the UK-targeted marketing, influencing, media and training that emanates to us unrestrained by Brexit.

"We have had our dalliances with fellow EU-based brands but issues around scale and language will always be a problem. It hasn’t stopped us from trying, and in truth it’s a place that Irish retailers will have to look to for the medium- to long-term.

"I won’t speculate on sterling either metaphorically or figuratively, but at a time when its value had plummeted I couldn’t but reminisce on the olden days when the rush to UK-based distributors would be instigated. Oh for the good old days of seamless transactions and weighty cashflows.

"It’s not all broken. You are reading this via the platform of one of our favourite UK-based partners and invites have been issued and accepted for a retailer/trade gathering in Shannon, County Clare on January 29th. Here, we plan to take stock, rid ourselves of self-doubt, strategise for growth – but definitely not spook the markets!"

Health Stores Ireland is the professional trade association representing more than 110 independent health stores in Ireland. Visit, Facebook @HealthStoresIreland

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