8 December 1995

500 suppliers join Sainsbury scheme

A NEW partnership has been launched between Sainsbury and four vegetable suppliers to encourage better feedback and discussion between grower and supermarket.

The Partnership in Produce initiative, started in August with a major fruit co-op, now includes 500 growers across the country after Bedfordshire Growers and three Lincs-based companies, Univeg, Marshalls of Butterwick and Elgro, joined the scheme last week.

No formal contract is involved. But Sainsbury claims the scheme will be a long-term agreement between the companies. The main aim is to encourage a "two-way flow" of information, says Ian Merton, Sainsburys director of produce buying. In the past, he admits, supermarkets may have been too rigid in their specification. While quality standards are "not negotiable", size and conformation of produce can be.

"We need to be flexible and understand the problems in growing these crops. In some years it is easy to grow a perfect crop, in other years not. This scheme gives the growers an opportunity to be heard."

Producers can also expect better feedback on "ever changing" customer demands, says Mr Merton.

"Farmers dont really understand the perspective of our business. Through regular meetings we can assist and advise growers technically and commercially. This partnership allows a true two-way exchange of views."

All suppliers are expected to follow guidelines laid down in the companys integrated crop management policy, based on NFU/multiple retailer protocols. "This is important for customer reassurance," says Mr Merton. "We realise that chemicals are needed, but at an optimum level."

Michael Scott, chairman of Elgro, who farms 607ha (1500 acres) near Kirton, Lincs, believes growers will welcome the scheme.

Potential gone

"The potential of the marketplace to jack up prices has gone. We need to take as much cost as possible out of the system. Pressures are such that suppliers and customer have to work more closely together."

While he does not expect a change "overnight", it is a forward step, he maintains. "Supermarkets have realised that they need us as much as we need them. They cant just turn orders on and off. We are still going to have to deliver quality produce.

"But at least we have the chance to discuss the different facets of our businesses."

&#8226 Long-term agreement.

&#8226 Better information flow.

&#8226 Regular technical and commercial meetings.

&#8226 Integrated crop management used.

Ian Merton (left) of Sainsbury and Univeg fieldsman Roger Cox inspect sprouts being harvested at Marshall Bannisters farm, near Frampton, Lincs. The crop of Kundry, part of the farms 200ha (500 acres)of brassicas, yielded a rewarding 14.8t/ha (6t/acre).