Supermarkets in Northern Ireland are facing disruption to supplies and less choice on store shelves as businesses in Britain get used to post-Brexit arrangements.
But while there may be less choice there is still “plenty of stock,” an industry representative of major supermarkets like Sainsbury’s and Asda said.
Concerns are mounting over supply chains struggling to handle new trading arrangements between the UK and European Union which came into effect last week.
Northern Ireland is operating different arrangements to the rest of the UK, as the region is remaining in the EU single market for goods with customs checks at Irish Sea ports.
Hauliers have described being “overwhelmed” by red tape due to new checks on deliveries to the region from the rest of the UK.
Shoppers in Northern Ireland over recent days have noticed shortages of some products in supermarkets, with images of bare store shelves shared online.
Aodhán Connolly of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said some regulations – like for parcels – were only given to retailers and logistics firms on December 31, which did not give any time to prepare.
That meant some retailers stopped shipping parcels for a short period but the majority have now come back online.
He added: “There has been some disruption to supply in other areas too while some Great Britain suppliers get used to a new way of trading with Northern Ireland and this was exacerbated by the days that fresh food was not able to pass from the EU to Great Britain.”
Cross-Channel traffic between Calais and Dover was temporarily halted before Christmas due to the new strain of Covid-19.
Mr Connolly added: “But retailers are adept at quickly changing supply chains and while there may be slightly less choice there is plenty of stock.
“However, in the long-term we will need the UK Government and the EU to work with us to find long-term workable simplifications that keep choice and affordability for Northern Irish families while keeping Northern Irish business competitive.”
UK government minister Michael Gove warned businesses and hauliers there is likely to be “significant additional disruption” at the UK border with France as a result of Brexit customs changes in the coming weeks.
He said efforts to assist would be “redoubled” as traders were urged to ensure their paperwork was in order, with cargo traffic at Dover expected to reach pre-Christmas levels again next week.
It came as major parcel courier DPD paused some delivery services into Europe – including the Republic of Ireland – because of pressure caused by new post-Brexit red tape.
Marks Spencer also revealed its popular Percy Pigs sweets could face extra tax crossing the Irish Sea to supermarket shelves in the Republic.
Mr Gove told broadcasters the government would be “stepping up” its communications effort to “make sure that business knows what is required”.
Meanwhile, customs authorities in the Irish Republic are temporarily relaxing regulations around goods moving from Great Britain.
Revenue Commissioners made the decision to lift some customs rules in response to delays and trucks being refused entry onto ferries.
“Revenue is implementing a temporary easement to alleviate these current difficulties,” it said.
In Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Party is seeking to recall the Assembly to discuss the post-Brexit disruption to trade.
East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs said: “If something’s not done about it now some smaller operators could go out of business and we could see the situation in our shops deteriorating further.”
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