Hailed by the National Farmers’ Union as a “bold move” that shows a real commitment to quality British food, the Co-op said its switch to 100 per cent domestic bacon and lamb will take effect in its stores from May 1 next year.
The new sourcing initiative will make the Co-op the only major UK food retailer to stock 100 per cent own-brand fresh British beef, chicken, pork, lamb, bacon and turkey.
It will see the Co-op support around 1,700 British sheep farms each year across England, Scotland and Wales, the retailer said, as it explained that an all-year round supply of fresh bacon and lamb will be achieved by farming a variety of native breeds that produce lambs at different times of the year - a move that it said would promote breed diversity across British lamb producers.
Steve Murrells, retail chief executive at The Co-op, said: “We are a major supporter of British farming. This move is a first for a major food retailer and will see us invest millions more into sourcing home produced goods.
“It’s an exciting time at the Co-op and our growing confidence is shown by our investment in UK farming as we do business a better way to meet consumer demand.”
The Co-op is already the only retailer to use British meat in all its chilled ready meals, pies and sandwiches and this latest announcement is part of a new three-year plan that will see at least £1.5bn invested in UK meat and vegetables.
The announcement came at the start of Love British Food Fortnight, which started at the weekend and runs until October 2. The campaign is sponsored this year by Co-op Food.
The revised sourcing policy has also come in the wake of new figures published by the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board which showed three major retailers - Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s - failed to stock 100 per cent British lamb during August, at the peak of British lamb production.
Welcoming the Co-op’s commitment to the industry, NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “We applaud this bold move by the Co-op to sell only British lamb and bacon. In a week that saw farmers and politicians unite at Westminster to back our industry, this decision shows a real commitment to quality British food and the farmers that produce it.
“The public tells us time and again that they want to see more British food on supermarket shelves and it’s fantastic to see that the co-op has recognised this and realised that it makes strong business sense to support British farmers.
“In the face of market uncertainty post-Brexit, the Co-op’s commitment to source British lamb all year round is particularly important in providing the support and stability to help British sheep farming thrive and sends a clear message that British lamb really is the best in the world.”
The NFU held a Back British Farming Day last week to highlight the importance of agriculture in post-Brexit trade negotiations.
Farmers, including several from Yorkshire, engaged with MPs and members of the House of Lords outside Westminster Palace to explain farming’s position.