Food firm rides out Brexit and coronavirus – despite sales hit and rising costs

Besana's factory and UK headquarters in Ipswich

Besana's Italian and Spanish owners are hoping to expand the UK business over the coming years - Credit: Besana

A company that imports thousands of tons of food products through the Port of Felixstowe says it has been able to ride out Brexit and the coronavirus crisis – thanks to careful planning.

Besana – which employs around 60 workers at its Ipswich factory – says it has succeeded in avoiding disruption to its flow of goods – but admitted sales in some areas had been affected by lockdown.

The factory specialises in foodstuffs such as nuts, seeds, dried fruit and chocolate, which it imports from countries including United States, Chile, South Africa, China, Turkey, Brazil, Bolivia, Australia and Italy.

In total around  10,100 metric tonnes of Besana product is packed and distributed from the Ipswich site to be distributed to customers including supermarket giants Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Morrisons.

Last year Italian firm Besana merged with another family-owned enterprise – Spanish company Importaco, which has a nuts and natural drinks business. Importaco bought a 51% stake in the company to create a business with a combined turnover of £694m a year. Besana enjoys a turnover of around £167m, of which £86m is from its UK arm.

The newly-merged business said it planned to expand its Ipswich operation. “Besana has been based in the UK since the mid of 1980s and has a long and enduring commitment to the UK,” a company spokesman said. “It is a key market for Besana and will continue to be going forward. There are plans to increase investment at the Ipswich factory. The factory will continue to employ more than 60 people locally with scope for this to grow as production increases. The merger will complete in the next couple of years.”

Besana UK sales and marketing director Simon Melik felt the pandemic and Brexit would “undoubtedly” continue to have an impact on the business for at least the medium term.

Besana's UK sales boss Simon Melik

Besana UK sales and marketing director Simon Melik believes the pandemic and Brexit would “undoubtedly” continue to have an impact on the business - Credit: Besana

The scale and complexity of the new border controls with new requirements for documents for the movement of goods in and out of the UK under Brexit, and the additional duty costs involved ultimately make the UK-EU trading process more costly, he said. 

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But he added: “Due to extensive prior preparation ahead of the UK’s departure from the EU, Besana has been able to maintain all existing import and export operations as normal and without delay. Thanks to the efforts of a number of our staff in conjunction with our logistic agents in Felixstowe, RBF Cargocare, we have transitioned to the new working arrangements seamlessly and continue to serve both UK and EU-based clients without interruption.”

The coronavirus crisis primarily hit the food-to-go section of the firm’s market, he said.

“The Covid-19 induced lockdowns during 2020 and early 2021 have forced people to travel less or stay or work from home, meaning fewer purchasing opportunities for our ‘on-the-go’ products at railway stations, airports, service stations and city centre retailers. This decline in snacking sales has been mitigated by sales growth in our home baking category that utilises nut and dried fruit ingredients,” he said.

“At times, due to the ongoing lockdown measures, there has been a relative lack of movement through service stations and retailers and smaller city centre stores over the lunchtime period. 

“As a consequence, a small part of our target market has suffered. However, our customers have become more nutrition-conscious and our business in the UK remains on a strong footing.”

The firm expects the overall business environment to improve by the end of 2021 as familiarity with the new UK/EU border processes increases and lockdown restrictions ease. 

It had managed to keep the number of staff it furloughed to an “absolute minimum”, it added.