Retailer “report cards” produced by the NFU show a big difference in the extent of supermarket commitments to buy British produce.

All nine of the retailers surveyed stocked 100% British milk and eggs, but there were large variations in their commitments to other food categories.

Britain’s two biggest retailers, Tesco and Asda, stocked 100% British across fewer categories than the other “big four” members, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. They also had fewer 100% British categories than all of the smaller retailers, except for Lidl.

Morrisons showed commitment to British produce across more categories than any other supermarket, stocking 100% British milk, eggs, fresh chicken, beef and pork.

British lamb

It was also the only supermarket to stock 100% British lamb all year round, while Marks & Spencer was the only retailer to have a commitment to 100% British lamb between June and December.

Discounters Aldi and Lidl, which have been rapidly clawing market share away from the big four, showed a good commitment to buying British. Aldi, the larger of the two, claimed to source 45% of its products from British suppliers and stock 100% British chicken, beef, pork, milk and eggs.

While Lidl showed commitment across fewer food areas, it was keen to promote Red Tractor in its marketing, and the NFU said it had “heard very little negative comments from farmers” dealing with either Aldi or Lidl.

The main challenge to retailers in increasing sourcing of British produce was getting enough livestock into the system and building trust in the supply chain to encourage investment, said Tom Lander, food chain adviser at the NFU.

Retailers could offer more long-term contracts, similar to Tesco’s two-year contracts, and use more British produce in ready-made meals, like Asda. “However, I think we are moving in the right direction and retailers are genuinely showing more commitment,” he said.

Producer relationships

Morrisons, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer received the most positive analysis of their producer relationships. According to the report card, Morrisons had “arguably invested more than any of the retailers in developing close relationships with farmers”, while Waitrose deserved recognition for its focus on developing strong long-term relationships.

Tesco needed to build on its two-year contracts to beef farmers by increasing British beef sourcing, said the report. In the time Sainsbury’s had increased its British beef by 7% and Asda by 6% (between November 2012 and November 2013), Tesco had dropped its stocking by nearly 8%.

A push to achieve 100% British chicken sourcing was needed by Asda, while Tesco also needed to forge ahead and widen its commitment to fresh chicken to all chicken products, said the report.

Sourcing figures

It called for almost all retailers to show greater commitment to lamb producers. Greater transparency and detail on sourcing figures, and measurements of progress against a baseline, were also required from several supermarkets.

Looking ahead, Mr Lander said the rise of the discounters would put pressure on the big four to be more price competitive and there was a concern their commitment to British could potentially waiver over the coming year.

“On the other hand, they are battling between themselves to be ethical and source responsibly to gain a point of difference from one another,” he said.

Supermarket & market share

Milk

Eggs

Chicken

Beef

Pork

Lamb

*Tesco (29.2%)

Yes

Yes

Yes (fresh only)

*Asda (17.3%)

Yes

Yes

*Sainsbury’s (17.1%)

Yes

Yes

Yes (fresh only)

Yes

*Morrisons (11.3%)

Yes

Yes

Yes (fresh only)

Yes

Yes

Yes (all year)

The Co-operative (6.1%)

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes (fresh only)

Yes

Waitrose (4.9%)

Yes

Yes

Yes (fresh only)

Yes

Yes

Aldi (4.1%)

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Marks & Spencer (3.8%)

Yes

Yes

Yes (fresh only)

Yes

Yes (June-Dec)

Lidl (3.2%)

Yes

Yes

Yes (fresh only)

*Big Four

Source: NFU report cards 2014