Scottish island chocolate maker blames Brexit for collapse of business

An island-based chocolate maker has ceased trading with its owners blaming the uncertainties and costs linked to Brexit for the demise of their business.

A chocolate maker based in Uig, Skye (pictured) has blamed ongoing Brexit chaos for the collapse of his business. PIC: TSPL.
A chocolate maker based in Uig, Skye (pictured) has blamed ongoing Brexit chaos for the collapse of his business. PIC: TSPL.

Isle of Skye Chocolate taken over by Angus MacRuary and his wife Pam in 2015 with the business supplying high-end chocolate products to businesses on the island and beyond.

Ms MacRuary announced the closure of his business on Facebook yesterday under the headline "The Last Post".

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Ian Blackford MP, leader of the SNP in the House of Commons and MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, said the closure was " so desperately sad" with the island unable to afford the loss of such businesses

Angus and Pam MacGruary in the kitchen of Isle of Skye Chocolate, which has now ceased trading. PIC: Contributed.

Mr MacRuary said that a drop in the value of the pound since the 2016 EU referendum had helped to fuel a 30 per cent rise in the price of importing the raw materials from Belgium that were needed to make his confectionery.

Failure to get a Brexit deal backed by parliament led to deepening uncertainty over the future trading climate with investment and growth in the business stalled as a result, he said.

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Mr MacRuary, of Uig, said he took the hard decision to close the firm given the loss of profitability and the inability to enlarge the firm given the unknowns surrounding the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

Mr MacRuary, 67, who formerly ran the Skye Brewing Company, said: "To the politicians, the loss of our business may be insignificant but this is 100 per cent of our lives.

"It is everything to us and it has been everything to our family."

Mr MacRuary said the costs of his raw goods, which are imported via company in England, went up 10 per cent following the June 2016 vote, just months after he took over the business.

Within 18 months of the vote, the cost of raw materials went up 20 per cent with him forced to up his prices by 10 per cent, he said.

With costs of importing the chocolate now up by 30 per cent since he took over the business, Mr MacRuary said it was time for the business to close.

He said: "We kept going the best we could and we looked at getting some new chocolate-making equipment which would allow us to increase the scale of our operation and reduce our unit prices.

"But by then, Brexit was very much on the horizon and people were beginning to think a lot more about what it would involve and what tariffs we thought we might have to pay.

"Most of our custom is driven by tourism, so we started to think about how this would be affected by Brexit too.

"We fought on, finding it harder to cope with the hours that we needed to put in to meet demand."

Mr MacRuary said that by the time the Brexit deadline was extended from March to October, the business was forced to take a new direction to survive.

"We tried to continue, really not knowing what was to happen even next week.

"We spent a lot on a website to try and restructure a little and sell more directly to the customer. At the time, we knew this would take time to build up our online sales.

"We needed money to come in, so my wife, who is the really talented one, took on a part-time job as a postie. There was then less time available to spend on the chocolate business.

"In the end, we decided that enough was enough."

Mr MacRuary said he has lost around £30,000 in the past three years. A decision to limit investment to converting their garage to their main production centre instead of building a bespoke operation had thwarted necessary growth.

"If it were not for the ongoing uncertainties surrounding Brexit, we would have been able to invest more and take on more people, potentially. There is no way we could have done that under the circumstances," he added.

Mr MacRuary said adopting WTO rules in the advent of a no deal Brexit would lead to him paying tariffs on chocolate imports of between 10 to 20 per cent, depending on the quality of the chocolate.

"Of course, the politicians are never affected like ordinary people. I have likened the situation to one of the wars, where the politicians are the generals and we are just the cannon fodder," he added.

Mr Blackford said it was clear Brexit was already hurting in the Highlands and Islands.

He said: "This announcement from the isle of Skye Chocolate Company is so desperately sad. They have been producing excellent products, the company is an excellent example of excellence in food and drink production from the Isle of Skye who have become an innocent victim of the Brexit shambles.

"We have been warning the UK Government ever since 2016 that Brexit would not be painless, that Scotland was going to be harmed, economically, socially and culturally from Brexit and here is more evidence.

"Boris Johnson and his Government need to recognise that Brexit is already costing jobs and prosperity in the Highlands and Islands. We are being harmed economically because of the failed leadership of the Tory Government and their Brexit obsession. It is crystal clear that Scotland did not vote for Brexit, our businesses need the certainty that we will be staying in Europe, it is the case that our best interests to protect business will be by becoming an independent country in the EU."