A British cheesemaker has sold his business to a larger rival to regain access to customers in the European Union after Brexit left him with an estimated £600,000 black hole in lost EU sales.
Simon Spurrell, who made headlines when he highlighted prohibitive export costs after the UK’s exit from the single market, will remain managing director of the Macclesfield-based Cheshire Cheese Company, retaining a stake in the business.
Its new owner, fellow North West England family farmer Joseph Heler Cheese, has maintained a presence in the EU as a result of its larger hub and distribution in the Netherlands, which Spurrell hopes will make supplying to Europe viable again. European customers.
Spurrell said he was delighted to return to the continent after a two-year absence, but still can’t believe how the government destroyed small businesses like his with its decision to go for a hard Brexit.
“The sad thing is that small companies like ours cannot have access to the EU,” he said. “Selling the company is a great solution… it secures the future of the company with a historic cheese factory.
“But I am still very disappointed and bitterly disappointed in the fact that I have had so many conversations with the Department of International Trade and government ministers and nothing happens.
“They are powerless because of their Brexit policy. They are so anti-Europe that they won’t even discuss how to get a better deal. Getting access to the single market has to be the first step.”
Spurrell says that after his press campaign last year to highlight his case, he was told by numerous people that Boris Johnson had referred to him as “that bloody cheese man.”
Government departments advised him to look for new business in “emerging markets,” advice he said was laughable given the huge market on Britain’s doorstep.
Spurrell founded the business in 2010 selling wax-wrapped trucks of cheese and racked up numerous awards for 15 artisan varieties, including cheddar, cheshire and royal blue.
It grew at around 30% a year and by 2019 had decided to invest £1m in a warehouse in Macclesfield to fulfill orders in Europe for long-standing favourites, such as Irish whiskey and gingerstem cheddar. , gold winner at the International Cheese Awards.
But when Brexit export rules came into effect, it was hit with veterinary certificate charges of up to £180 on retail orders to consumers in the EU, even for those who bought £30 worth of personal gift packs, which made his business unviable overnight.
In 2021, the first year of trading after Brexit, it lost £240,000 in wholesale and consumer business in Europe and was expecting another £350,000 hold this year.
And while rising domestic demand during the pandemic cushioned losses, it couldn’t see a route back to the single market as a small business.
Spurrell said the alliance with Joseph Heler, a far bigger concern, offered strategic means of dealing with the costly trade barriers of Brexit.
“If it’s big enough, it can mitigate the cost increase because the cost of paperwork for one pallet of cheese can be spread over 100 pallets. It will also benefit all EU customers because they can get a local delivery rate,” he added.
He said the deal, which was done for an undisclosed sum, was also great news for his workforce. All head office, production and warehouse staff will be retained, while an additional 14 full- and part-time jobs will be created.
“We were very worried about this Christmas. We didn’t know what was going to happen and my main thought was for all the guys who were with me. Now everyone is taken care of by this fantastic company we’ve joined…it gives our team a bit of security going forward.”
George Heler, Joseph Heler’s group managing director, said: “We are delighted to welcome the Cheshire Cheese Company… Together, we are confident we can extend its reach in the UK and Europe.”
Countless consumers and businesses have been affected by the additional costs of Brexit since 2020, with additional shipping costs sometimes making selling and buying from Europe prohibitively expensive.
A recent analysis of trade statistics by the Institute for Economic and Social Research shows that UK trade with the EU was 16% lower than if Brexit had not happened.