7 April 2000
Kitemark could replace other schemes

By Johann Tasker

THE National Farmers Union is set to hand over control of its new kitemark in a controverisal deal with the farm assurance company Assured British Meat.

Ultimately, the aim is to replace all existing assurance marks with the NFUs all-embracing red, white and blue tractor British Farm Standard kitemark.

Under the plan, ABM will be renamed, provisionally as Assured Food. Its remit will be extended to cover produce from all sectors rather than just livestock.

After its launch last week by Prime Minister Tony Blair, the NFU kitemark immediately won widespread supermarket backing.

But it received a frosty reception from farmers, despite an NFU survey claiming it will convince 60% of consumers to buy the food on which it features.

Proposals to adopt the NFU kitemark and extend AMBs remit to all farm sectors have been agreed in principle by the companys directors.

The plans will be put before shareholders within the next few weeks although existing assurance schemes have given them a mixed reaction.

The Assured Combinable Crops Scheme, which is chaired by the NFUs Jonathan Tipples, embraced the move.

But Scottish and Welsh farmers, whose strongly branded Scotch beef and Welsh lamb have proved a success with consumers, said they opposed the plans.

Brian Simpson, chief executive of the Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb Association, said millions of Pounds were spent on the Specially Selected Scotch brand.

“Research has shown our brand is clearly identified by consumers and they are prepared to pay a premium. There is no particular need for ABM in Scotland.”

Don Thomas, managing director of Welsh Lamb and Beef Promotions, said his company would refuse to use the NFU kitemark.

Any logo which included the word British was weakened by Britains association with BSE, he added.

“We would certainly not undermine our own brands with an unknown logo, not unless we had overwhelming evidence would add to consumer appeal.”

The NFU denied its kitemark would mean the immediate end of regional branding and said it would be used initially alongside existing marks.

Helen Lo, NFU head of food and marketing, said the union was not trying to take anything away from regional branding.

“Various counties and regions have their own strengths and were trying to give farmers and growers a single identity for all their hard work.”

David Clarke, ABM chief executive, said the NFU kitemark would link together all farm assurance schemes and promote one message to consumers.

But it was too early to say whether other marks would fall by the wayside. “Things will evolve, although exactly how is difficult to know, said Mr Clarke.

“The main driving force is consolidation but exactly how quickly that will happen remains to be seen.”