5 June 1998

Match big retailers stringent standards

By John Burns

THE way to deal with large retailers is to employ professionals as good as theirs to negotiate with them, Hampshire vegetable specialist Peter Barfoot told a seminar at the Royal Bath and West Show.

He said that professionalism should then be pushed down to the people supplying the agricultural industry.

"We might even get a retrospective bonus from our suppliers," he added. "There is no doubt getting into bed with your customers is not only a good thing, it is what you have to do. Millions of £s are wasted because suppliers and customers do not trust each other.

"You both have to open your accounts and work at the strengths and weaknesses."

He warned the margins would be about 10% gross, 2% net, and only those operating on a large scale could survive at those levels.

Mr Barfoot was upbeat about traceability and food safety.

"Whats the problem? Make it a marketing point. Everything you do needs to be recorded. My farm manager has a computer in his Discovery. He can get five years results and inputs for any field at a touch."

That sort of information impressed supermarket buyers.

"Organic production is not sustainable. But Tesco has customers for it. So youve got to do it, whether you believe in it or not."

Glos farmer Ken Martin protested that there was no need for supermarkets to force down retail prices when shoppers could afford to pay more. "The traditional British farmer cannot survive unless he gets a bigger share of the end-price," he said

Chris Ling, Tesco producer club manager, insisted that the retailer was working on ways to ensure a fair return for its producers.

"We will be offering farmers who want it some form of forward contract. It cannot be done overnight. It must be sensibly thought out," he said.