Companies across Britain have begun stockpiling beer, wine and spirits to keep the alcohol flowing at Christmas as concerns grow that Brexit could disrupt supplies over the festive period.
Rushing to bring forward their imports, firms warn that the Brexit deadline on 31 October stands to clash with the run-up to Christmas, when import volumes rise, temporary staff are employed and warehouse space is at a premium.
More than a fifth of companies have taken steps to import stocks earlier than usual to avoid any border disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to a survey from the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (Cips).
John Glen, an economist at Cips, said alcohol wholesalers in particular had started stockpiling imports from the EU in recent weeks, rather than waiting until November as usual.
“It’s particularly wine from the EU,” he said. “Companies have bought well ahead of Christmas this year, due to potential disruption at the ports and to try and avoid depreciation in the value of sterling against the euro.”
Wine merchants have started to import more champagne to supply the UK over Christmas. Britain is the biggest export market for champagne, buying more than 26m bottles a year, helping support the French economy and a champagne market worth €4.9bn (£4.3bn).
The Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne trade body told Reuters last week that growers and champagne houses had overstocked in Britain to avoid Brexit disruption.
Wine critic Antoine Gerbelle told the news agency there was enough stockpiled to meet British demand for at least a year. “There won’t be a champagne crisis at Christmas,” he said.
According to secret documents that the government was forced to make public last week up to 85% of lorries crossing the Channel might not be ready for a new French customs regime.
Spelling out the government’s “planning assumptions” under Operation Yellowhammer – the government’s no-deal plan – the flow of HGVs could be cut by 40-60% from current levels within one day as unready trucks fill the ports on both sides of the Channel.
More than half of UK firms are not ready to trade with the EU under a no-deal scenario, according to the Cips survey of 817 supply chain managers at firms across 11 sectors of the British economy,
Glen said companies were fearful about their ability to survive the busy Christmas period. “Mass border disruption during this time could have a catastrophic impact. Businesses need to be provided with as much detail and support as possible to ensure they can survive the festive period.”