Aisles empty in Belfast M&S stores; Sainsbury’s sources from Spar

A lorry passes through security at the Port of Larne in Co Antrim, Northern Ireland on December 6, 2020. (Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images)

Marks & Spencer said Britain’s withdrawal from European Union trade rules last week was responsible for near-empty fresh-food aisles at some of its stores in Ireland on Wednesday.

Sainsbury’s earlier this week said it had begun to stack some products in Northern Ireland stores from rival Spar.

A M&S store in Galway on Ireland’s west coast and one in Belfast in Northern Ireland both had a large number of empty shelves in the chilled food, meat and fruit and vegetable aisles on Wednesday.

“Following the UK’s recent departure from the EU, we are transitioning to new processes and it is taking a little longer for some of our products to reach our stores,” a M&S spokesman said.

“We’re working closely with our partners and suppliers to ensure customers can continue to enjoy the same great range of products.”

Aisles selling fruit and vegetables and some fresh pre-made meals were almost empty at M&S stores in Dublin and Galway. Pictures posted on Twitter by local news reporters showed similar scenes in at least two other Dublin M&S stores.

Several rival supermarkets in Dublin had full fresh fruit and vegetable shelves on Wednesday.

As of 1 January, goods shipped back and forth between Britain and the EU are subject to customs and other bureaucratic hurdles that did not previously exist.

Northern Ireland is subject to customs and food safety checks under the terms of Britain’s EU trade deal.

In order to keep the border open between Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland, a separate agreement was struck that requires a regulatory border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Sainsbury’s has secured a temporary agreement with wholesaler Henderson Group, which supplies Spar and Vivo stores across Northern Ireland.

“A small number of our products are temporarily unavailable for our customers in Northern Ireland while border arrangements are confirmed,” a Sainsbury’s spokesman said.

“We were prepared for this and so our customers will find a wide range of alternative products in our stores in the meantime and we are working hard to get back to our full, usual range soon.”

At least three M&S branches in France had empty shelves on Tuesday.