With both Brexit and the global supply chain crisis heavily impacting Malta, major UK supermarket brands, such as Waitrose, Tesco and Iceland are disappearing from local shelves.
A combination of exorbitant shipping prices, significant demands for documentation and border checks, with the disruptions caused by COVID-19 sprinkled on top, has left local shoppers looking for UK supermarket brands with far fewer options at this stage of the post-Brexit landscape.
Officially, the UK left the EU on 31st January 2020, after a long and winding political process which saw a deal on the terms of the withdrawal agreed upon by both the UK and the EU. As part of the UK’s exit from the EU, it no longer forms part of the single market, and therefore no longer benefits from the free movement of goods, services, capital and people across the remaining 27 EU Member States.
For a country like Malta, that is highly dependent on imports for a wide range of goods, and has strong historical ties with the UK – even on a commercial basis, being both countries have English as an official language, Brexit left a major impact for local importers and consumers, with the second hand car market being decimated, and major obstacles for retail importers covering food, drinks, clothing, accessories and more.
In the case of Tesco products, imported by the highly popular Smart Supermarket in Birkirkara, a recent visit shows such products are in short supply, while a chat with staff informed this newsroom that products are available until stocks last, meaning it will no longer be getting Tesco products.
Reaching out for comment, a Smart Supermarket spokesperson confirmed that Tesco is cutting its export agreements with importers around the world, due to the labour-intensive requirements post-Brexit. The spokesperson confirmed, however, that a limited selection of products will be available for the coming months, with the last shipment expected around May. The spokesperson also confirmed that Smart is currently in talks with another leading UK supermarket brand, and that an announcement is imminent.
As for Arkadia supermarkets, present both in Malta and Gozo, the high-end chain is no longer importing Waitrose products, a fellow high-end supermarket brand popular in the UK. While some products can still be seen on Arkadia’s shelves, staff made it clear that it is until stocks last.
In the case of Iceland Supermarkets, the local operations have recently been purchased by Valhmor, a local importation company supplying meat, poultry, fish and catering equipment.
A company spokesperson confirmed with BusinessNow.mt that Valhmor Borg Imp/Exp Ltd has entered into a representation agreement with Iceland International for the operation of Iceland in Malta. Up until a few months ago, Iceland was present locally in San Gwann, Qawra, Mosta, Mellieha and Marsascala.
Iceland International is part of the UK-based Iceland Foods Group, representing the Iceland brand around the globe.
Through this new agreement, Valhmor confirmed that only Qawra and Marsascala will continue to operate as Iceland supermarkets. The company did not specify what will happen to the other Iceland outlets, however it is clear that the Iceland brand will be significantly downsized, going from five outlets, to just two.
Indeed, Valhmor also confirmed that Brexit has been a major challenge overall, brining about logistical issues as well as a general cost increase.
The price of foods and importation has skyrocketed in recent months, with December 2021 seeing the highest level of inflation for that year, driven mainly by the price of food. Therefore, importers contending with supply chain and cost pressures, who also have to deal with the rising costs associated with UK imports in particular, have faced unprecedented challenges in the past year.
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