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Supermarkets challenged to do more to support British farmers

Beef farmer, Devon Beef farmer, Devon Photo: © CPRE

Supermarkets have significantly improved their environmental performance over the last few years.

They have introduced a number of initiatives and programmes under their Corporate and Social Responsibility strategies. However, they have tended to focus on reducing waste, water use, energy and greenhouse gas emissions. While this is welcome, we would like to see supermarkets do more to support local food and farming.

At the start of 2013 we asked people to write to supermarkets asking what they were doing to:

  • promote and expand the range of products for sale that are grown in ways that enhance the character of our landscapes and that help wildlife to thrive;
  • make sure they treated their suppliers fairly and to pay British farmers and producers a fair price that takes into account the cost of production;
  • set and meet demanding targets for stocking local food. In our Vision for the Future of Farming we suggests 10% of food sold in a supermarket should be sourced within 30 miles.

Co-op Tesco Sainsbury's Morrisons Waitrose Asda Marks and SpencerWe had a tremendous response with almost 7,000 letters sent to the chief executives of the seven big supermarkets, so thank you very much for your help. We invited the supermarkets to provide statements setting out how they would address the three issues.

Our view on the responses from supermarkets

We've summarised our view on the supermarkets responses here, you can read the responses we received from each of the supermarkets in the PDF.

Countryside-friendly products
hedgerow and birdFrom the responses to our online action we aren’t convinced that the supermarkets are doing as much as they could to address this issue.

More could be done to provide more information to consumers about what sort of products are available, where they can be found. and their benefits. Supermarkets could adapt their shelf displays to make it easier for customers to find products and foods that contain ingredients that are produced in ways that benefit the countryside. Regular in store events could be held with farmers and food producers available to talk to shoppers about how the production methods they use benefit the countryside.

This could increase sales of products that help to maintain landscape features or that are grown in ways that benefit wildlife, such as Conservation Grade crops or produce from farmers who belong to LEAF.

We’d like to see supermarkets doing much more to support and sponsor producers of countryside friendly food products by giving back a percentage of the sales revenue they generate to fund farmers’ environmental work. For example, they could help cider producers to restore traditional orchards or a cheese maker to replant hedgerows? CPRE would like to see more support for farmers environmental management work from across the whole food supply chain, to compliment the activity undertaken by publicly funded green farming schemes.

Fair trading with British farmers and producers
John Sherril beef farmer Totnes DevonUnsurprisingly given on-going concerns about fair prices for farmers, and the recent creation of a ‘supermarket ombudsman’, supermarkets addressed this issue most comprehensively in their responses. Nearly all of them stated a commitment to support British farming, and some use cost of production business models to agree prices with the farmers they trade with.

We would like the supermarkets to make even more progress on this issue, by implementing more cost of production business models to help smooth out the volatility of the market in food. Fluctuating prices make it difficult for farmers to plan the future of their businesses which can hinder investment or changes to production methods that can benefit the environment and make their businesses more economically viable. Those supermarkets that are still being criticised by farming organisations for not doing enough to support dairy farmers should make this a priority.

Supermarkets should avoid a race to the bottom on price. The recent horsemeat scandal has demonstrated that the pursuit of ever cheaper food can have dire consequences for food quality and consumer confidence in provenance.

Stocking local food
Watergull Orchards Worcester applesThe responses from the supermarkets didn’t clearly set out how they define local food, and apart from a couple of exceptions didn’t provide much detailed information on the percentage of local food they sell either as a whole or whether they could find out how much a particular store was selling.

This is undoubtedly an issue that we think supermarkets could do much more to address – there are some good signs, but there is scope to do a lot better. All the supermarkets, could be much more ambitious not only for setting targets for sales of local food as a percentage of total turnover but for individual stores.

CPRE would like to see supermarkets make a commitment to stocking more local food while adopting clear criteria that reinforce consumer trust in local food and its benefits. Supermarkets should seek out fresh, seasonal local produce and commit to providing contracts with terms that help local food producers to expand their businesses.



Find out more
Supermarkets challenged to do more to support British farmers - supermarkets responses (594K PDF)

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23 May 2013

We would like to see supermarkets do more to support local food and farming

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