Farm union chiefs have warned retailers that they still have some way to go to improve the sourcing of sugar and flour from British producers, despite a raft of recent industry pledges to back domestic farming.
Baking at home is enjoying a resurgence, one survey suggests, but it has not changed the fact that there is mixed support from the major food retailers for sourcing some of baking’s key ingredients from domestic producers.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has revealed that eight of the big retailers - namely Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, The Co-op, Waitrose, Lidl and Marks and Spencer - source all of their own brand flour, butter and eggs from domestic producers.
Yet Aldi - a signatory of the NFU’s Back British Farming charter - only sources half of its flour from Britain and the union said it was working with the supermarket chain on its commitment to increasing that figure.
Meanwhile, only Morrisons, Asda and M&S source 100 per cent British sugar. Both Bradford-based Morrisons and Asda - which has a head office in Leeds - source Silver Spoon granulated, caster and icing sugar in their stores, and M&S uses 100 per cent British sugar in its own brands.
Meurig Raymond, president of the NFU which has published the performance of retailers for supporting British produce in a new supermarket guide, said: “The commitment to British food is trending upwards but there is still room for improvement by all retailers, across all sectors. The NFU is engaging with all retailers to achieve this.”
Flour, sugar, eggs and butter are all in greater demand for home baking than in previous years, according to the results of a survey carried out by Waitrose, which found that 19 per cent of people who were asked said they did baking at home at least once a week and nearly half said they were baking more than they had five years ago.
This trend may have been influenced by the popularity of the BBC’s hit television show, The Great British Back Off.
Prue Leith, the TV series’ new presenter, is supporting the NFU’s Back British Farming campaign and urged shoppers to buy British.
She said: “UK butter, flour and eggs are all easily available and choosing them really helps our fantastic farmers. So let’s make the effort to buy British.”
As well as Aldi, Morrisons, M&S, The Co-op, Waitrose and Lidl have signed the NFU’s Back British Farming charter.
The NFU’s Mr Raymond praised the commitment shown by retailers who could demonstrate strict support for domestic food production and urged others to join them.
The Pembrokeshire-based farmer said: “It’s fantastic to see more retailers than ever committing to British farming and supporting them on the shelf-edge. British food is produced to some of the highest standards in the world and deserves to be widely available.
“We know that shoppers want to buy more British produce and the aim of our supermarket guide is to give them the information they need to do that. I’m sure the public will be delighted to know that retailers are giving them the opportunity to buy more British products by getting behind the nation’s farmers.
“The overall message is to buy British and the NFU’s supermarket guides aim to help provide that information. Already, six brands have signed up to the Back British Farming charter and we would like to see more do the same.”
The union boss also encouraged shoppers to look for the Red Tractor logo to ensure their food is produced to the highest standards and welfare on British farms.
The market fortunes of key baking ingredients are currently mixed, and are having a direct impact on farmers.
The vast majority of flour is made from wheat and industry body AHDB reports “a finely balanced UK supply and demand situation for wheat this season”, with wheat output substantially lower on the year and domestic consumption set to increase.
Millie Askew, analyst at AHDB Market Intelligence, said: “With the way wheat imports and exports are lining up more closely this season, we could see the UK become a net importer.”
Separate figures show UK egg consumption rose by two per cent on the year, to 12.5m eggs, leaving UK self-sufficiency at 85 per cent.
Regardless of any baking-related boom, sugar sales remain in overall decline, leaving the industry facing “an existential challenge,” AHDB said. Analyst Stewart Batchelor blamed “overwhelmingly negative media coverage and health warnings coming from government agencies”.