The 25% tariff includes products like Scotch whisky, some wines and cheeses from France, Spain and Germany. photo illustration by michelle volansky

St. Louis wine, cheese shops discuss possible effects of EU tariffs

Fans of delicacies from single-malt scotches to pungent French cheeses will soon pay more for their indulgences. Effective Friday, Oct. 18, the Trump administration imposed a 25% tariff on an array of food and drink items from the European Union.  

The tariff, which was announced earlier this year, includes products like Scotch whisky, still wines with 14 percent or less ABV from France, Spain and Germany, cured meats, cheeses and other foodstuffs. The tariffs are in response to EU loans and illegal subsidies for aircrafts from European manufacturer Airbus.

“We’re just not sure yet what’s going to happen,” said Ally Nisbet, owner of Scotch whisky destination The Scottish Arms. “Our main goal is to keep our customers from taking too much of a hit.”

Nisbet said whiskey prices at the Arms will hold steady for as long as possible, and he still intends to continue sourcing as many interesting whiskeys as he can.

The Wine & Cheese Place owner Vijay Shroff said he’s already built up his wine and spirits inventory for the holiday season, so for the next few months his customers shouldn’t see a price jump on those products. Still, he’s already seen an increase in the price of cheese, since it’s perishable and can’t really be stockpiled.

“At some point, every retailer and restaurant is going to run out of pre-tariff inventory that was bought and paid for prior to Oct. 18,” Shroff said. “The margins in the industry aren’t such that anyone in that chain of importer to retailer or restaurant can just absorb them. At some point, the prices are going to reflect the tariff.”

Parker’s Table cheesemonger and buyer Simon Lehrer said imported cheese will be one of the first products to see a price increase.

“People who want French brie for Thanksgiving dinner, those are the people who’re going to see it first,” Lehrer said. “Since [cheeses] are perishable items and air-shipped, you’ll see price increases there first.”

Lehrer said some consumers may also see immediate price jumps for Beaujolais Nouveau, which isn’t released until mid-November, at stores that didn’t preorder at a set price before the tariff went into effect.

Since most goods affected by the tariff are luxury items not usually enjoyed on a regular basis, many consumers may just grin and bear the increase. For example, Lehrer said some wine and spirits aficionados buy in large quantities – enough to last them for years – and may just dip into their stashes a little more and try and ride it out.

Shroff said he thinks demand will probably be redirected from the tariffed items to other things.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how demand will be affected,” he said. “People already see many of these things as luxury items with price tags to match. Some scotch drinkers might say, ‘I’ve always wanted to try Japanese whisky and maybe now’s a good time.’ I don’t think there will be a huge fall-off in demand. For a retailer like me, it might just be a product shift.”

Lehrer said he will turn his attention to Missouri-made products. “We’re going to focus on super local stuff and try and feed into the local economy for the short run and hope that [the tariff] passes relatively quickly,” he said.

Lehrer said while there’s no way to replace specialty items like Parmesan, consumers may branch out and find new favorites. But at the end of the day, he expects those customers will bite the bullet and buy that brie for Thanksgiving.

“If it’s a tradition, you’re not going to blow it over $10,” Lehrer said. “You may just buy a little less.”

Matt Sorrell is a staff writer at Sauce Magazine. 

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