UK: Farmers’ supermarket study finds commitment to British sourcing

A study by farmers’ leaders has found that major UK supermarkets are pushing UK and local sourcing but could do more to strengthen their relationships with the agricultural sector.

The National Farmers’ Union has published the findings of a major investigation into the corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies of the 10 largest UK supermarket chains.

The report, which looks at how retail CSR programmes are impacting on UK farmers and growers, reveals that most of the major chains have sourcing policies that promote British produce while several retailers have also pledged to ramp up UK sourcing. However, it also highlights areas where the big names could develop their commitments to the benefit of both the retailer and the farmer.

NFU director of corporate affairs Tom Hind said many retailers were starting to highlight British agriculture and horticulture as key features of their CSR programmes.

“Having good relationships with the UK’s grocery retailers is critical to the success of British agriculture and horticulture,” he added.


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“Over recent years, many retailers have sought closer relationships with farmers and growers. They have developed standards to meet the expectations of groups of consumers, set up dedicated pools in some sectors and sought to champion UK and local sourcing.

“In our study we highlight both the positives and the negatives of the different approaches so as to encourage the take-up of best practice more widely across the industry. We’ve seen some great examples of retailers really pushing UK sourcing, others that are working closely with farmers and growers in terms of environmental concerns and even some retailers that are investing in research and development.

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“Nevertheless, there remains broad scope to develop commitments that would help farmers and retailers overcome the significant challenges they faced. All of the retailers we looked at could do more to establish clear baselines and targets that can be measured on policies such as sourcing. All could do more to highlight the role of Red Tractor Assurance schemes. And all could do more to strengthen relationships with farmers across all sectors.

“The NFU firmly believes that having strong credentials in favour of UK agriculture and British sourcing places retailers in a better position to address some of big issues that both they and farmers face: meeting consumer demand for high quality, affordable food, responding to climate change and other environmental pressures and investing for future competitiveness.”

Research from the IGD and others has shown that consumers are increasingly looking for British, seasonal and local food. Public concerns about buying power lead many people to demand that big businesses adopt more responsible commercial policies. And stronger, more trusting relationships will not only help address consumer concerns about animal welfare or the environment, but also ensure that and create a climate in which businesses are more confident about investing.

The study found that Waitrose and Morrisons’ policies on sourcing place them very favourably with commitments to 100 per cent UK sourcing in a number of areas. Sainsbury’s 20by20 commitments to double UK sourcing have the potential to make a significantly positive impact on UK agriculture

Marks and Spencer’s Plan A incorporates a number of important elements that benefit UK farmers in terms of investments in research to extend growing seasons and create market opportunities for farmers and growers, the research found.

It said the Asda Farmlink initiative and R&D programme offer some good examples of positive farmer engagement and approaches to sustainability. Tesco and Sainsbury’s have both created major dairy pools with specific pricing commitments that benefit farmers.

Discounters Aldi and Lidl are starting to put significant emphasis on UK sourcing with Aldi offering 100 per cent British fresh meat commitments, it added.

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