Big stores hit back on food sourcing

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Retail bosses insist demand for locally sourced food products has to be consumer led, not driven by environmental considerations alone.

To better protect the interests of food producers, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) wants major supermarkets to strive towards at least ten per cent of their sales consisting of food supplied from within a 30-mile radius of a store, stock and promote more “countryside friendly” food and link prices to producers’ costs on fertiliser, diesel and animal feed.

Andrew Opie, the British Retail Consortium’s director of food and sustainability, who believes supermarkets already demonstrate strong support of British farmers, said: “Ultimately, retailers meet consumer demand and whilst many are interested in local produce it is not all consumers and varies across the country.”

The CPRE asked seven supermarkets to explain how they support farmers and the countryside. Waitrose responded with a statement saying its dealings with suppliers were covered by a four values “Championing British, Treading Lightly, Treating People Fairly and Living Well”, adding: “Our aim is to be a restorative retailer, giving back more than we take.”

The statement continues: “We were the first supermarket to pioneer producer groups amongst our farmers, which means we take produce from farmers we know well and trust and we work with them collaboratively.”

Its liquid milk is supplied from a pool of 80 farmers and is never bought on the open market, and it sets the price paid to producers instead of the processor. Waitrose said: “This means that our farmers receive a market-leading price that always takes into account the costs of production. We apply this principle across our business.”

Tesco agreed to meet the CPRE to discuss its concerns. It sells 4,000-plus local lines in its stores, works with 400 local suppliers and runs sustainable farming groups for beef, dairy and pork farmers.

Bradford-based Morrisons buys around £1bn of British meat, produce and dairy products each year. Its own branded fresh meat is British with the majority sourced directly from British farmers. It made concessions for 2012’s bad weather by accepting smaller and weather-marked crops with the same eating quality.

Asda sells more than 6,000 local products supplied by around 600 small local businesses. The Leeds-based chain, which is owned by US firm Walmart, works with more than 8,000 British beef farmers, more than 5,000 British sheep farmers and sources its fresh milk from British dairy farms.

Sainsbury’s has a dairy development group. The group’s 323 farmers have received more than the market price for their milk over the past five years. Its development and crop sustainability groups help more than 2,500 farmers. Last year, its farmers adopted a Cost of Production system linked to farmers’ real costs.

The Co-op has launched five farming groups to cement relationships with producers. These groups will now supply all Co-op own brand fresh standard pork, fresh standard chicken, Hampshire breed pork, Hereford and Aberdeen Angus premium beef and premium Cambrian lamb.

Marks & Spencer launched its Plan A initiative in 2007 to combat climate change, reduce waste, use sustainable raw materials, trade ethnically and help customers lead healthier lifestyles.