Unilever And Tesco Battle Is Brexit Warmup Act For A Tough Christmas, Tougher New Year

If the tumbling pound hasn't done so, then perhaps the lack of Marmite on Tesco shelves might bring home the implications of Brexit. One of those odd people who hates Marmite? Ok, then, what about Ben & Jerry's ice cream disappearing from the freezer cabinet? What if I told you there are unlikely to be any January sales this year, and Black Friday discounting is going to leave you pretty unexcited too?

These might sound like trite points, but the Tesco battle with Unilever over prices is the first shot in a coming artillery barrage that is set to end the phony war we've been living through since June's disastrous vote to leave the EU. Small-minded people who don't run companies and so couldn't see the wood for the trees and those Brits who drive white vans and still read the gutter press got together to make a political decision that has massive economic ramifications they had not bothered to think through. Curiously, the people who were trying to advise them either way, on the Leave or Remain, have all disappeared the second the mess has to be cleared up.

So maybe we needed a Marmite moment to make us realise that actions have consequences. I was talking with an interior furnishings brand the other day and they were adamant that if their experience is anything to go by, there is big trouble on the way. Namely, we don't make a lot of stuff in this country any more, so it's imported. When the pound is strong we don't think about it but when it's weak, as now, it suddenly dawns on us that prices are about to take a big hike. In the case of the company just mentioned, they will have to find a way to pass on or absorb a 10% price hike on their imported wares. They recently took on staff, which sounds great on paper. However, this was only possible because another company that is more reliant on imports has warned employees they will likely be gone by Christmas, so they'd best look around now for another employer. The result? Lots of eager, skilled employees actively seeking a pay cut to get them through Christmas.

The festive season will be very interesting. Listening to smart people on BBC Radio 4, the consensus seems to be that companies can "hedge" against Euro fluctuations for a few months but then reality has to bite. Most bright sparks who have been pressed suggest that it's difficult to imagine anyone hedging against the rise of the Euro and Dollar beyond November, or maybe December at a real push.

Which brings us to price hikes of the festive season. Mark these words: brands will try to pass on extra costs and retailers will resist, and there will doubtless be a mixture of price increases and in most cases, brands and retailers absorbing extra cost. So Black Friday could turn out to be a bit of a damp squib this year, and Christmas bargains will be a little more thin on the ground.

What all experts are agreeing, then, is that Christmas will be incredibly tough for brands and retailers alike, and then come the New Year, it's unlikely there will much in the way of January bargains because prices will have been cut to the bone through absorbing the higher cost of imports.

Brexit may have appeared OK up until now because we have been shielded from it, but if the protection continues until Christmas it will then have to be dropped as the new reality bites and doubtless, another big hame on the high street goes.

Marmite was just the tracer bullet in an opening salvo in all this. It's in the post, and like a card from your maiden aunt with a second-class stamp, it might be just after Christmas, if not before -- but it's definitely going to land on the mat to accompany the national hangover we'll all be starting the New Year with. 

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