Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Season for Sprouts

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying Brussels sprouts are the ultimate Christmas vegetable. In fact, each Christmas, we munch our way through around 100 million sprouts, and a good chunk of that number is supplied by Anthony and Enda Weldon from their farm in North Dublin. Much like Santa’s elves, December means serious overtime for the Weldons –  as they aim to ensure a serving of sprouts makes it onto dinner plates around Ireland. Read on to find out how they do it.

When it comes to sprouts, the Weldon brothers have a lot of pedigree. They’ve been growing them for decades. “The farm has been in the family for around four generations,” Anthony says. “It was traditionally vegetable and cereal growing, but it’s only in the last few decades we decided to concentrate on sprouts specifically.”

“They’re obviously originally from Brussels, but sprouts would have been grown in Ireland from the early part of the last century,” he explains. “My grandfather grew them and he was a young man in the 1916 Rising.”

Brussels sprouts will certainly be making an appearance in the Weldons’ Christmas spread. “I would eat them three times a week,” Anthony says. “The traditional way is to cook the sprouts in the same way as bacon and cabbage, with the sprouts done in the bacon water.”

And younger generations are finding new ways to spice up the sprout with creative cookery. “Just yesterday, my nephew made up a sprout salad with maple syrup and beetroot and it was absolutely delicious,” Enda explains. “Everyone was filling their plates.”

Along with daring new recipes, modern growing techniques and varieties have contributed to a serious uptake in the humble sprout’s reputation. “We plant them a lot earlier than we did traditionally, and we grow them now on a slower regime,” Enda explains. “That way, they use all the natural trace elements that are in the ground.”

“The varieties we have now are a lot sweeter,” Anthony says. “I think that’s what put people off them years ago. They were used as a threat, ‘We’ll give you sprouts if you don’t behave yourself!’ but I think that’s changing now. Thankfully for us,” he laughs.

Preparing for the Christmas Rush

December is definitely the busiest season for the Weldons – with around 50% of their production geared towards the Christmas rush. “The actual volumes that go through in Christmas week are easily twenty times what goes through in a normal week,” Anthony says. “In a normal week, one harvesting machine will suffice but on Christmas week, we need three.”

“We’re coming into the mad season now,” Enda says. “It’s very different from normal operations during the year because we have to take on a lot more people and train them. And we put the show in operation ‘round the clock for about 8 or 9 days. We harvest, size grade, quality grade, pack, and deliver all within around 24 hours. You have to be able to get it done when the crunch comes at Christmas.”

 

A Unique Challenge

And the sprout itself is a tricky customer, as Anthony explains, “It’s probably the most difficult brassica (plants belonging to the mustard family) to grow. The sprouts themselves are fully exposed to the elements at all times. “

This year, a lack of sunlight during the summer has contributed to a sprout shortage across Europe. “We had a reasonably good growing summer,” Anthony explains, “but because we had a lack of sunshine, the crops have tended to grow higher to (reach the) light this year. And as a result, we’ve had a smaller sprout size.”

 

The Benefits of Flexible Finance

Because of the seasonal nature of their work, the Weldons often need fast access to farm finance. “AIB are a huge part of our business, especially in terms of leasing arrangements,” Enda says. “When you’re cropping, you’re taking a chance every year. We personally take that risk, but the bank also takes the risk with us.”

“We’ve availed of financing from AIB over the last twenty years and we’ve always found them very flexible and easy to deal with,” Anthony says. “Sometimes opportunities arise when you need quick decisions. And you need fast clearance from the bank if you’re going to finance something.”

Keeping Your Limited Company Compliant

When you incorporate a limited company in Ireland, one of your main concerns should to be to keep the company (and directors) fully compliant from a legal, company secretarial, taxation and accounting perspective. With the level of corporate regulation continuously increasing in Ireland, it is of vital importance to the company and its officers to ensure all such legal responsibilities are met. If you are the director of an Irish company, these tips from Andrew Lambe of Company Bureau Formations Limited can help you and your company stay on the right track.

 

Hire a good Accountant

One of your main priorities as a business owner is to oversee your company’s accounting and tax obligations. A good Accountant is worth their weight in gold, and can take a huge burden off your shoulders. They can take care of your company’s annual returns, payroll, VAT returns, CT returns and statutory annual accounts. It is vital that you choose a dependable Accountant to carry out these tasks as mistakes can be costly.

 

Ensure your company secretary is capable and keep your statutory registers up to date

By law, every Irish company is required to appoint a company secretary. The main duties of a company secretary are to ensure that the company complies with the law, manage the company’s daily administration and any additional duties that company directors may delegate. Whilst there is no qualification requirement for this role, it is important that your company secretary possesses the skillset and knowledge required to keep your company compliant.

The secretary will generally maintain the statutory company registers, which are required to be maintained under the Companies Act. The statutory registers include the register of directors and secretary, members, beneficial owners, transfers, directors and secretary’s interests and debenture holders.

 

Know your dates and put your company on a ‘watch list’

Once your company has been incorporated, it is good practice to add your company to a ‘watch list’.  A watch list will remind you via email that your company’s Annual Return Date is approaching and it will alert you should any changes be made to the company at the Companies Registration Office. Core.ie provides this service free of charge once you register with them.

 

Understand your role as a director

Company directors’ have a wide range of responsibilities which can be quite diverse. Company directors have to comply with the Companies Act 2014 and have duties under Common law. If a director is found to have breached company law, he or she can be liable to penalties that can range from a fine up to €500,000 or a maximum jail sentence of 10 years. There are different categories of offences ranging from 1-4 under the Companies Act.

Brexit affect the international logistics industry

How would Brexit affect the international logistics industry? At this stage, it’s difficult to predict every potential implication for Irish business, but what we can state with some confidence is that Britain operating outside the EU would add complications and costs to the supply chain and inhibit movement of goods across our borders, writes Alison Moore from DHL Express Ireland.

Given its position as Ireland’s most important trading partner, if the UK was to exit the EU the very strong likelihood is that there will be a very negative impact on trade flows between the two countries. The ESRI has estimated that the negative impact on trade between the two countries could be as high as 20%, which would have a significant impact on both economies – most especially on the Irish economy. How this would, in turn, affect individual companies would of course vary. It is reasonable to suggest that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) with a higher proportion of their trade with the UK would be more severely impacted than larger companies that tend to have a more diverse range of export markets and are therefore less dependent on the UK as a destination.

 

Certain Sectors Susceptible to Brexit

The severity of the consequences of Brexit is also likely to differ by industry sector. For example, the pharmaceutical and medical devices sectors, which historically have a significant FDI investment, have a wide range of both EU and non-EU export markets. In contrast, the agriculture and food & drink sectors are more dependent on the UK as a market, so the impact of a Brexit on these sectors would be much more significant. According to a study by IBEC, the UK accounts for over half of all meat exports, valued at close to €2 billion and 30% of Irish dairy exports, valued at close to €1 billion. The UK is also an important market for ingredients and prepared consumer foods, accounting for 70% of exports in this area. However, even if the UK decides to leave the EU, it’s still likely to be an important market as businesses tend to sell perishable goods to nearby markets. Irish firms will still have to apply EU regulations but may also have to shoulder the cost of applying separate UK regulations as well. Regardless of the type of new arrangement it reaches with the EU, if the UK votes to leave the EU, customs and other procedures are likely to become more onerous for exporters to the UK in comparison to the current trade agreements.

 

Some Silver Linings Amongst the Clouds?

It could be argued that British exports to the EU would decline in light of a Brexit and this represents an opportunity for Irish companies to provide similar, substitute products. A recent article in The Guardian in the UK suggests that trade concerns are minimal due to the fact that, should Brexit actually proceed, the most likely outcome would be that the UK would negotiate a free trade agreement. It points out that the UK is the largest export market for the EU and, in that context, it has a strong negotiating position. However, many British business leaders are sceptical about their negotiating power and they point out that while the UK may have 65 million or so consumers, the EU represents 500 million and therefore has significantly more clout.

For Irish businesses that are currently relying heavily on the UK as a market, it may be an opportunity to delve into other international markets. If the UK exits the EU, then the likelihood is that the value of Sterling will decline against the Euro. This will have some implications for Irish exporters to the UK, potentially making their prices less competitive to UK consumers or retailers. A drop in the value of Sterling, along with some potential additional trade barriers, could put some Irish businesses at risk. To mitigate this risk, Irish companies (in particular SMEs that have less product market diversity) should really look to expand their market base to destinations further afield.

The legal consequences for businesses and citizens

Brexit would make legal history. No Member State has ever left the European Union in its 60-year history – territories have left (Algeria, Greenland and Saint Barthélemy) but never a Member State. Moreover, the legal consequences for businesses and citizens are both unknown and unsure, writes  Dr Vincent Power, Partner at A&L Goodbody.

The legal regime for a Member State’s withdrawal from the EU has neither been designed fully nor tested before – a broad roadmap exists in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) but it is sketchy.

If the people of the UK and Gibraltar vote on 23rd June that the UK should leave the EU, it would be as dramatic as New York leaving the USA. It is not that trade or the movement of people between the UK and the smaller EU would stop, but both trade and migration would probably be more difficult in the absence of a satisfactory agreement between the EU and the newly departed UK.

Legally, if the UK wants to leave then it must inform the European Council. Negotiations would then commence after a mandate for negotiation has been agreed by the EU. The negotiation process may take however long is agreed but, by default, it would take two years. A two-year period is optimistic: to unscramble 43 years of membership and thousands of laws in such a short timeframe seems unrealistic. After all, the UK’s application process to join a slimmer European Communities took 12 years and had hiccups.

Post-Brexit Agreements and Law Changes

There would probably be post-Brexit agreements between the UK and the EU such as a “Withdrawal Treaty” and a “Relationship Treaty”. These agreements would legislate for many (but not all) of the issues which would arise. There is no precedent: the much mentioned “Norwegian”, “Canadian”, “Turkish” and “Albanian” models are all for countries which were never EU Member States and one would imagine that the UK would expect more from the “old club” than those who were never members. Conversely, the EU might not want to be generous to a departed member (so as to avoid encouraging others to leave) while some of the third party agreements are designed to encourage non-Member States to join. So, negotiation would be difficult.

There would probably be a “trade agreement” between the UK and the EU. There would also have to be clarity on the trade relationships between the UK and the rest of the world so this would probably mean many more agreements than just the UK-EU one. One should not underestimate the difficulties of reaching agreement on an EU-UK trade agreement: the 1,598 page EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is still not in place after a decade of discussions. Even the arrangements in place are complicated (e.g. the EU and Switzerland have over 100 agreements between them).

There would also have to be amendments to UK law to deal with the fact that the UK is no longer an EU Member State. Measures embodied in “Regulations” (e.g. the EU Merger Control Regulation by which businesses benefit from the “one stop shop” of EU merger control regulation) would no longer apply but “Directives” (e.g. on employment and environmental matters), which had been implemented into UK law (i.e. national UK laws that were adopted to give effect to EU directives), might have to be neutralised or reversed (if the UK wishes to do so) by adopting new UK laws. There is no doubt that there would be a period of legal uncertainty while the UK legislative regime is adapted to cope with the new reality.

Descriptive Brand Names

It is important that brand owners be aware of the trademark registration process when choosing a new brand name. Not only should a brand name address the commercial needs of a company, it should also satisfy the legal requirements for registration. To qualify for registration, a trade mark needs to be distinctive so that consumers can easily identify the trade origin of products or services, say David Flynn and Mary Bleahene of FRKelly- Ireland’s leading Intellectual Property firm.

 

There are many types of brand names which do not qualify for trade mark registration and these include “descriptive” trademarks. A trade mark is considered descriptive if it has a meaning which will be immediately perceived by consumers as providing information about the goods and services on offer. For example, the mark DetergentOptimiser was refused registration for washing machines (laundry machines / dishwashing machines), the mark ELITEPAD was refused registration in respect of tablet computers and the mark Original Eau de Cologne was refused registration for cologne.

 

All of these trademarks provide immediate information about the goods being sold. The rationale behind forbidding registration of descriptive trademarks is that purely descriptive terms should be left available for all traders to use. However, it should be noted that trademarks which are merely suggestive of the goods or services are generally protectable.

 

Trade marks which attribute quality or excellence to the products or services on offer are also unregistrable because they are considered descriptive in a laudatory sense. Examples of laudatory terms include “Finest”, “Prime” and “Deluxe”. The reluctance to permit registration of laudatory trademarks is based on the belief that the customer will view the mark as a promotional or advertising term which describes positive aspects of the goods, rather than as a trade mark denoting trade source.

 

If a brand owner is concerned that its trade mark could be refused registration because it is descriptive / laudatory, the crucial question is whether the mark provides immediate information about the goods or services of interest.