Great Taste awards will no longer be judged only in the U.K., thanks to Brexit border controls

Brexit formally happened four years ago, but its impact is still unfolding. Just look at the border fees that kicked in last month for food products like cheese and meat, adding charges to the extensive paperwork now required for imports from the European Union. 

The red tape introduced by these new measures has already complicated matters for British food businesses that rely on European supplies, adding hundreds of millions of dollars in estimated additional expenses. 

But some of the effects go beyond financial costs—it’s caused the world’s largest food awards, the U.K.-based Great Taste awards, to send its judging panel abroad for the first time in its 30-year history.

What happened?

Run by the Guild of Fine Food (GFF), the Great Taste awards are a major British accreditation for food and drink products, which can receive a one-, two- or three-star sticker from a panel of 500 judges. Past winners include well-known brands like Twinings tea and Whittard hot chocolate, as well as lesser-known independents.

This year, the panel will break tradition and do some of their judging from Ireland, The Guardian reported, in response to the new import controls making it harder and costlier for suppliers to bring their products to the U.K.

Indeed, some past winners of the Great Taste awards refrained from throwing their hat in the ring this year, fearing shipment delays and paperwork slip-ups.   

The context 

This change has been long coming, GFF’s managing director John Farrand told Fortune.

“The last four years have seen import and export between the U.K. and the EU become increasingly difficult,” he said.

The GFF decision to move some of its judging to Ireland was so businesses “did not need to unravel the bureaucracy and uncertainty of moving product to the UK on their own.”

As an additional measure, Great Taste will help new entrants “in removing barriers to entry and promote small food producers,” Farrand said.

Before Brexit, things looked very different. Although the U.K. has imported most of its food since the industrial revolution—today, the figure is just under half—while still in the EU, it had free access to the wide range of food offerings from its neighbors, without fees, checks or paperwork.  

Since leaving the single market, the country has both faced and imposed EU border controls across various sectors in an attempt to pursue an independent trade policy. This has caused hassle for those reliant on the import and export of food in particular, but the government holds that the restrictions are necessary. 

“These border checks are fundamental to protecting the UK’s food supply chain, farmers and natural environment against costly diseases reaching our shores,” a government spokesperson said in April. “It is important to remember the cost of our border checks is negligible compared to the impact of a major disease outbreak on our economy and farmers.”

What does it mean for business?

Alongside paying £29 ($37.12) fees per shipment—of any size—importers must now produce a health certificate for cold or frozen meat, fish, dairy products like cheese, and flowers. This will eventually apply to fresh fruit and vegetables too.

The added bureaucracy has already begun impacting businesses that work closely with European suppliers. Over time, it will also impact consumers due to a more limited variety of food items, causing prices to rise on some of these products within the U.K. just as inflation begins to cool down.

“There are several potential outcomes to this, including the risk of less choice and more processed foods, with unfamiliar ingredients listings,” Farrand said. “From an economic point of view, it would certainly mean that there is less money circulating in the SME arena and our local communities.”

The Brexit border rules are having a disproportionate impact on smaller businesses, which can struggle to cope with costs and administrative delays, and industry bodies including the Cold Chain Federation have requested the government to do more to protect them from their impact.

“Even if vets can sign off, many smaller EU suppliers will simply stop exporting to the U.K. due to the extra bureaucracy and the loss of the ability to send small consignments in grouped loads, just as small U.K. exporters did in 2021,” the British Meal Processors Association said in a statement earlier this year.  

If the impact of the border fees and paperwork is as significant as some industry bodies predict, it could become a significant deterrent to business. The Great Taste awards will not have been the first to give up trying, and they’re highly unlikely to be the last. 

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