Supermarkets backing local produce with source policies
Supermarkets are increasingly sourcing British-produced products, a move welcomed by farmers.
The National Farmers' Union has produced a report on policies of the 10 largest supermarket chains. Its major investigation into the corporate social responsibility policies looks at how they are impacting on farmers.
It 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.
But it also highlights areas where the big names could develop their commitments to the benefit of both the retailer and the farmer.
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"Having good relationships with the grocery retailers is critical to the success of agriculture," said Melanie Squires, South West regional director of the NFU. "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 championed local sourcing."
The study highlighted 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 British 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," she added.
But there remained 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," said Mrs Squires. "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."
Sourcing domestically helped retailers meet buyer demand for high-quality, affordable food and respond to environmental pressures. Research had shown that consumers were increasingly seeking British, seasonal and local food, while public concerns about buying power led many people to demand that big businesses adopt more responsible commercial policies. Stronger, more trusting relationships would not only help address consumer concerns about animal welfare and the environment, but also ensure a climate in which businesses were more confident about investing.
The NFU report shows that Waitrose and Morrisons' policies commit them to total UK sourcing in a number of areas. Sainsbury's commitments to double UK sourcing had the potential to make a significantly positive impact on agriculture. Marks & Spencer helped farmers with research investments to extend growing seasons and create market opportunities. And the Asda research-and-development programme offered some good examples of positive farmer engagement and approaches to sustainability.