By Jeremy Hunt

CLOSER links between producers and the food manufacturing and retail sector must be achieved to meet the increasing demands of the consumer.

That was the message given to north-west farmers this week at an NFU/Institute of Grocery Distribution meeting in Lancashire, one of a nationwide series of seminars aimed at developing the “supply chain partnership” concept.

John Ross, purchasing manager for Nestlé, said food production must satisfy consumer demands on several counts, although he stressed that the consumer was not a standard product.

“Its a very complicated animal,” said Mr Ross.

“But the overriding need of all consumers is availability of product.

“It has to be there for them in whatever situation they require it, whether its a filling-station shop or a supermarket.”

He told farmers that they must develop a greater appreciation of the needs of the marketplace and understand how manufacturers and retailers had a rigid agenda of consumer-driven standards that had to be met.

“Quality, food safety, legal requirements, traceability, production and storage standards and, increasingly, environmental issues are all areas that must be addressed to meet the demands of the consumer.

“But I have to say that food safety is now the biggest single threat to the food industry. You can get everything else right but a problem on food safety can kill a business overnight.”

Mr Ross said improving the dialogue between farmers and manufacturers and retailers was an important step.

“Messages need to be flowing back to farmers telling them what consumers want. It will lead to a valuable and secure partnership and enable us all to achieve our aims.”