But there will be one notable difference here in the Britain. Domestic chocolate makers, who should be celebrating one of their busiest times of year, are fuming instead, and all of them cite the same cause: Brexit.
“We’ve lost our entire European trade,” said Aneesh Popat, the owner of The Chocolatier, which sells dark chocolate salted caramel water ganache Easter eggs and other treats out of Bedfordshire, about 50 miles north of London. “Worse than that, we’ve lost our reputation, because when we send pallets of chocolate to, say, Germany and it disappears or we can’t track it, our customers don’t blame the courier. They blame us.” The trade deal struck late last year with the European Union spared Britain from a variety of tariffs that would have inflated the prices of goods that travelled to the mainland. It has not saved British companies from a maddening, unpredictable array of time-consuming, morale-sapping procedures and from stacks of paperwork that have turned exporting to the EU into a sort of black-box mystery.
Goods go in and there is no telling when they will come out. Or how much customs duties will cost the recipient. Or even where the goods will ultimately land.
“We sent a palette of drinking chocolate to a customer in Paris on January 4, and it came back to our company yesterday,” Popat said on April 1. “It’s just embarrassing.
“So we decided that instead of trying to explain that we have no idea where our shipments to Europe have gone, we should just stop shipping there,” he added.
Complaints about long and bewildering forms and wayward merchandise have been heard from industries across the country, from automakers to shellfish producers. In November the government predicted that the country would suffer the worst recession in three centuries because of the pandemic and forecast that the economy would shrink by 11.3 percent. At the same time, the Boris Johnson administration has minimized the ongoing migraine of post-Brexit trading with Europe, describing the matter as “teething problems.” To chocolate makers, the issues feel more like bites that are going to leave a mark. Chocolate is the U.K.’s second-largest food and drink export, after whiskey, according to the Food and Drink Federation. Chocolate exports to all countries hit $1.1 billion last year, and Europe accounts for about 70 percent of those sales. In January, exports of British chocolate to Europe fell 68 percent compared with the same period the year before.
The industry is dominated by a handful of players, including Cadbury, one of the largest candy makers in the world . But following a boom of artisanal “bean-to-bar” makers in the states, dozens of family-run companies cropped up around Britain, emphasizing ethically sourced ingredients and bespoke batches. They became big sellers in Europe but have been nearly impossible to find there since January.
“We have customers complain to us all the time, ‘Why can’t I buy my favourite British chocolate?” said Hishem Ferjani, the founder of Choco Dealer in Bonn, Germany, which supplies grocery stores and sells through its own website. “We have store owners with empty shelves.” “We have to explain, it’s not our fault, it’s not the fault of the producer. It’s Brexit,” he said. —NYT