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P Lamil Cocoa Bites

28th June 2021

My Brexit journey: Managing Director Adrian Ling, Plamil Foods

Based: Folkestone

Size: 45 employees

Sector: Food; the UK’s longest-running vegan food business manufacturing

products ranging from dairy-free, organic chocolate, egg-free mayonnaise, and alternatives to milk, including soy.

At the start of 2016, exports were 50% of our business. But, since the EU Referendum, they have reduced year-on-year by up to a half because of the uncertainties around Brexit. We have replaced some of our exports with different types of ranges for the domestic market but we are just starting out along a road which will involve making fundamental changes.

The potential for the vegan market is huge, both in the UK, EU and internationally but for a business to be in one set of trading terms one day and another set of terms another day – well, it’s difficult and there’s work to be done.

Above all, Brexit has caused us to change our expectations. We did practical things, including working with Kent Trading Standards to update our labelling. But we also developed our culture to focus more on the need to be flexible and accept we have to learn as we go. We’re investing and not just financially. While we do now have a full-time person, who is fantastic and determined, working on our paperwork, we have also spent time and energy on becoming psychologically, mentally more adaptable and resilient.

The reality is, while Brexit is often discussed as a tick-box exercise – ‘this is what you need to do and this is where you need to go and if you do all these things this will be the result’ – it isn’t like that at all. There is a lot of uncertainty: you have your understanding of the rules; and other countries have their understanding. You need to be patient and focused on your goals.

It’s also clear the impact of leaving the single market is less on bigger companies. But it has huge implications on smaller set ups. Starter brands must think hard about how they are going to get their product out there in sufficient quantities to make a healthy return.

Before Transition, it was just a case of ‘come up with an idea and go to market’ but now the innovators are going to have to find completely different ways to reach customers, which may even affect the type of product they end up making. For those starting out in business now, it will be a very different experience, and much more complex.

We were the original vegan company. When we started there was next to no vegan market, so we are very experienced at selling in challenging distribution conditions. I know we will continue and we will be here in another 10-years’ time. But, in addition to Brexit, and Covid, the vegan market is evolving rapidly, so what we do and how we are doing it, I predict in a decade from now will have changed significantly.