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Dublin: 13°C Thursday 13 May 2021

It's a year since the snow-induced bread rush - now Brexit is causing problems

A no-deal Brexit could mean the prices of bread increase by between 10% and 15%, according to a bread makers’ association.

shutterstock_1071745208 Source: Shutterstock/Anzhela Klepko

IT’S BEEN ALMOST a year since the Beast from the East covered the country in snow and brought Ireland to a standstill.

Flights, trains and other public transport was disrupted; students were told they had a few days off, and some companies told their employees to stay at home.

But before the snow even hit, it was having an impact. On the eve before the storm hit, stores across Ireland reported that they were experiencing a surge in demand for bread (and other products).

Stores looked to reassure their customers: Tesco, Lidl and Supervalu all asked their suppliers to provide extra stocks to meet the increased demand.

At the end of February, ahead of a snow-ice warning brought on by the Beast from the East and Storm Emma, a spokesman for bread suppliers Johnston, Mooney and O’Brien told TheJournal.ie that the company had “significantly increased our production to meet the dramatic increase in sales being experienced” due to the “unprecedented demand levels experienced yesterday and today”.

Looking back now, what made us go mad for bread?

“I think it was a bit of a comfort but also a slight bit of panic,” Gerald Cunningham, president of the Flour Confectioners and Bakers Association tells TheJournal.ie.

It was the hunter-gatherer nature of people.

“But there’s also the community side of it, and the fear of ‘God, if we’ve no bread what are we going to eat?’ It’s a staple in Irish houses.”

download (4) Source: Melanie May

Cunningham said that there is also a “very Irish feel” and a “traditional” element to bread for Irish people that makes them feel they need it in their house regularly. 

In a study commissioned for bread week, it analysed why people rushed to buy bread. It found that 40% of people felt reassured by simply having bread in the house, and that sharing bread increased their sense of social solidarity.

The survey, which asked 1,000 adults on the island of Ireland a series of questions about their consumption of bread, found that 95% of those surveyed ate it at least once a week.

Around 30% of people stockpile bread, and 40% have bread in the freezer.


This March, breadmakers (and eaters) are facing a new and totally different threat: Brexit.

There are three mills on the island of Ireland, with just one located in the Republic of Ireland – in Portarlington, Co Laois.

shutterstock_636204392 Source: Shutterstock/forstbreath

However, it only produces retail flour, as in the bags sold on shelves for home baking. With those minuscule numbers, 95% of all flour used for making bread actually comes from the UK.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, tariffs will be placed on these flour imports which could result in a charge of €172 per tonne of flour

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This would then have an knock-on impact on the price of bread; Cunningham says the price could rise by between 10% and 15% in a no-deal Brexit scenario.

If this were to happen, bakers could start looking for flour suppliers outside of the UK, which could result in massive job losses to British mills.

As people try to prepare for the worst case scenario, the options for bakers are limited, Cunningham says.

Bread is a perishable product, so you can’t stockpile it. A sliced pan might have a seven-day shelf life, while you’d eat fresh crunchy bread in more or less 24 hours.

He adds that smaller artisan bakers might be able to stockpile flour ahead of the threat of increased tariffs, but that was more difficult for industrial chains that would need more space.

There’s also the additional difficulty that some flour actually has a shelf life of around 4 months, meaning that if a baker buys flour now to stockpile, that baker has to be sure that all of it will be used in that timeframe.

Sugar imports would also be hit with high tariffs in a no-deal Brexit; although sugar isn’t used in breadmaking, many bakers are also confectionery makers, so would be affected by this, too.

Is Cunningham worried that Brexit will mean more bread shortages and empty shelves, or will they be more full than they are now because bread will be a lot more expensive?

I’d like to think that the shelves will be full, we don’t want to panic and put more pressure on bread-making businesses.

“The main point is that ports need to stay open and free-flowing, the same with the borders,” he says.

“I can’t see a benefit from a hard Brexit… I really would like to think that politicians would see common sense to postpone it and negotiate it properly.

“It’s the uncertainty of it, we’re being asked all the time what’s the policy – we’re just kind of headlining a hard-Brexit scenario.”

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