05 | Jan | 17

Hugh Thomas

Brexit Blues

Brexit. It’s unravelling as a bit of a farce. With the potential to devolve into tragedy — when it comes to the serious business of our food.

We spent the last few weeks of 2016 trying to predict the future. And Brexit is part of that future. We’ve already seen that people think street food can cost too much. Well, Brexit’s not likely to help matters. Not when our little speck of turf in the Atlantic relies on sourcing around a quarter of its food, especially raw ingredients, from the EU. Things could get a lot worse for the food industry as a whole, as people keep saying. But just how bad could it be for street food?

‘I’m concerned,’ says Cardiff trader Brother Thai, ‘about the whether I’ll be able to absorb price rises of ingredients or have to pass them on [to the customer].’ It’s a problem where even food’s big guns are already struggling to adapt. Early musings from Bird’s Eye say they may increase their prices by up to 12%. And we all know what happened in that furore over Marmite.

Strange how this is all taking hold when we barely know how or when Brexit will even happen. Truth is, the issue’s so large businesses have to start preparing now. ‘The idea of Brexit has already started to affect what we do,’ says poutine purveyor Blue Caribou Canteen. ‘Being a food trader that prides itself on being authentic to the Quebec region of Canada, we import a number of ingredients from there. The distributors are located in France, so many of our products are starting to edge close to being too expensive.’

You’ve heard it all before – street food traders don’t get to where they are without having to adapt what they do at some point. Maybe the problems Brexit raises are no different. Maybe it’s not as bad as we might think. ‘The matter of uncertainty of Brexit isn’t that great,’ says Brother Thai. ‘That said, I’d like to think the independent nature of street food means front line traders can be responsive to sudden downturns in the economy.’

At some point in the New Year, Your £5 lunchtime burrito might end up being your £5.75 lunchtime burrito. Authentic food might become even more of a luxury, and some of your favourite dishes could suffer.

Look a little closer though, and you’ll see something emerge. A shared matter of concern, you might say. We might be clutching at straws, but if the potential of a new movement in street food is there – one where traders can work in closer harmony among themselves and with their suppliers to overcome this common obstacle – perhaps the future’s not as bleak as we think?