MORRISONS has handed out letters to milk price protesters reminding them they are inconveniencing customers by their actions, after groups of dairy farmers targeted the Bradford-based chain’s stores to clear shelves of milk cartons.
A customer has been injured after getting caught up in a protest, the supermarket giant confirmed, reportedly in Scotland although Morrisons did not confirm this.
While it did not say directly that the letters contained the threat of legal action against protesters, Morrisons did say it would take “necessary steps” if protests continued to endanger staff and customers.
Morrisons is one of the retailers that has been the subject of the ‘Milk Trolley Challenge’. The protest sees farmers clear supermarket shelves of milk, and either pay for it and take it away or dump it at the checkout.
A Morrisons spokesperson said the retailer, which sources milk from Arla and Dairy Crest - both of which have recently cut milk prices - understood why farmers were unhappy but that it had decided to issue the letters to ensure safety in its stores.
The spokesperson said: “Recent protests have caused inconvenience to customers and disruption to our stores. One customer has already been injured after being caught up in protester activity.
“We understand the reasons behind the protests but we ask they take place safely. If the activity continues to endanger customers and colleagues, we will take the necessary steps to ensure their safety.”
The National Farmers’ Union said it supported “peaceful” and “legal” protests, and that its leaders would hold another round of talks with industry figures and milk buyers in the coming days.
Morrisons told The Yorkshire Post on Tuesday that the disruption to its stores was disappointing, that it was “not seeking any further reductions in milk prices”, and blamed the milk price crash on reduced global demand which had led to an over-supply of the product in the UK.
NFU president Meurig Raymond has said Morrisons’ pledges fall short, and that he wanted to see the retailer develop transparent pricing mechanisms, and long-term relationships with their suppliers that show support to the British dairy sector.
While Morrisons said it was “surprised” by the remarks after earlier “positive” talks with the NFU, both parties pledged to continue to discuss ways forward.
Average farm gate prices across the UK are down by 25 per cent in a year, with latest Defra figures showing the average milk price paid to farmers was 23.66 pence per litre (ppl) in June – way below the 30-32ppl costs of production quoted by farmers.
Milk prices will be one of the topics addressed at a summit in London on Monday when representatives of the NFU in England, Wales and Scotland, and the Ulster Farmers’ Union will address ways that retailers, processors, government and shoppers can back British farming in a sustainable way.
Booths outperforms rivals
Sales of milk at Booths supermarket are outperforming the market, the retailer claimed.
Booths, which operates 32 stores in the North of England, with the majority in Lancashire but with three in Yorkshire - in Ilkley, Ripon and Settle - pledged to always pay the highest market price to farmers in May 2014 as part of its Fair Milk scheme.
Amid the current protests affecting other supermarkets, Booths said sales of its ‘Fair Milk’ had enjoyed a five per cent growth in the last four weeks, outperforming the market which saw just 0.3 per cent growth as a whole.
Currently, the chain pays farmers 33 pence per litre for their milk, which is higher than any other major supermarket in the country.