Caobisco president Mary Barnard stresses need for Brexit deal

Having taken up her post nearly a year ago, Caobisco president Mary Barnard, who head’s Mondelez International’s chocolate division, reflects on an especially eventful period. Neill Barston reports exclusively

With the food and drink sector training its eyes on the outcome of Brexit, it has been an especially uncertain period for many businesses within the confectionery, bakery and key ingredients market segments.

As Mary Barnard, president of Caobisco, which represents the chocolate, biscuits and confectionery sector across Europe, explained, the industry is seeking urgent resolution on future British trading arrangements with the continent.

For an industry worth a total of around €5 billion in trade between the UK and its closest neighbours, there remains a huge amount at stake over the outcome of the ongoing intergovernmental negotiations.

“I think the message we would like to send is one of the sooner this is sorted, the better,” she says on the issue of the moment that has seen trade groups from across Europe, lobby hard for a customs union deal to be finally agreed with the EU.

The political sands have continued to shift on the issue, with the UK having been expected to have left by March 29th, a deadline that has now been extended until the end of October, with no resolution as yet in sight.

“We have been working very closely with Food and Drink Europe (which represents the entire European sector) on the matter of Brexit, given that amount of trade between the UK and the EU is significant. We think that it’s critical that we have the facility to trade across Europe, and that some form of customs union is agreed,” added Barnard, who remained hopeful a solution could be found.

Despite such challenges, the president believed there was plenty of cause for encouragement within the sector, based on her attendance at this year’s ISM trade show in Cologne, at which a significant number of products emerged.

“With my role at Caobisco I have been able to see some unique company successes that have showcased at this year’s ISM.

“I think it’s been fantastic to get know the industry even better in my role, especially with Caobisco representing 13,000 businesses, amounting to around 300,000 employees.

Across those businesses we have seen a lot of creativity within the European sector.”

Speaking on the key challenges which the organisation is tackling, among the most pressing is in lobbying for changes to the EU’s trade deal with Japan, in light of concerns emerging over a switch to volume-based valuation of product being traded instead of previous standards based purely around the value of goods.

Another major area of focus has been on offering a lead responding to growing calls around the world for products perceived to contain healthier ingredients with less volume of sugar within them.

“There are concerns around wellbeing and obesity levels, as well as other demographic shifts, and as a consumer driven sector, this is something that is important for us to consider. While people are looking for healthier products, they don’t wish to sacrifice the taste of their treats, which I think is something that’s a significant part of people’s lives. So, we want to see the industry respond with innovation – which is something that happened at ISM. We are also involved with initiatives such as B-Treatwise, helping consumers with portion sizes, which we feel is a really good plan,” explains Barnard on her varied and engaging key position within the sector.

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