Unilever is stockpiling Magnum ice cream in the UK to ensure supplies do not run low if there is a no-deal Brexit.
The ice-cream is produced in mainland Europe. Unilever’s chief executive, Alan Jope, said the company had taken the decision to import extra supplies in case the ports grind to a halt.
“We have built inventory on either side of the Channel,” Jope said. “It’s weeks of inventory – not months or days.
“If I was in the designer handbag business then I might have built further [inventory] cover but we’re not, we are in fast-moving consumer goods and one of the things we have learned is, when you build inventory, it can end up being the wrong mix of product.”
The company is also holding extra stock of its deodorant brands, which include Sure, Lynx and Dove, on the other side of the Channel. The consumer goods company makes its deodorant brands in Leeds.
Jope said the overall cost involved in storing the additional stock, along with changing the artwork on products to ensure they still complied with relevant regulations, was not material to the company, which has annual sales of €51bn (£44.6bn).
Unilever has also been building up stocks of the materials used to make and package products in the UK, including aluminium, plastics and propellants. The company is hiring a team of customs experts as part of its Brexit planning.
In his first press conference since succeeding Paul Polman as chief executive, Jope said the company was preparing for a multitude of scenarios of which a hard Brexit was the most difficult to manage.
He said the impact on the company’s prices would depend on the tariff regime: “We desperately hope that we don’t end up in a tariff-laden environment.”
Unilever is the latest company to reveal that it is stockpiling products before the Brexit deadline. All major retailers, including Tesco and Marks & Spencer, are stockpiling packet and tinned foods, although they have warned that it is not possible to build up supplies of fresh produce.
Drugmakers were told by the UK government last summer to stockpile six weeks’ worth of extra medicines, prompting AstraZeneca to boost its supplies in UK warehouses to four and a half months.
Major carmakers are stockpiling parts but Jaguar Land Rover has warned that it can only amass enough parts to cope with days of disruption, rather than weeks. Other manufacturers including BMW have echoed those concerns.