7 April 2000

One rule for everyone vital – veg buyer

VEGETABLE producers who refuse to join quality assurance schemes could be left without a market, supermarkets have warned.

Many growers are disappointed that the big retailers are not promoting their membership of such initiatives, but that could be about to change through retailer schemes or the NFUkitemark (see p55).

Sainsburys operates a blanket policy that all its growers must be APS members and is examining the possibility of telling shoppers that its fresh produce is farm assured.

"It is something we have been looking at and would like to implement as long as it is not confusing to the customer," says David Shepherd, a senior vegetable buyer. The common standard applied by APS is a good thing, he believes.

"We have got to have one rule for everyone. One of our customers top priorities is quality. They expect food that is safe to eat and we must ensure the highest standards are in place," he adds.

Waitrose also requires all fresh produce suppliers to join APS. Like Sainsburys, the company is extending its assurance requirements to include overseas suppliers who are members of European assurance schemes.

Membership of assurance schemes is not mandatory to supply Asda, but it encourages its growers to join up. "We would still take produce from someone if they were not a member although we would want proof that produce was grown to the same standards," says a company spokeswoman.

Marks and Spencer operates to its own code of practice, including on-farm pesticide use right through to packing. Membership of APS is not enforced, but the company would raise questions if farmers refused to join, says Emmett Lunny of the retailers technical department.

Mr Lunny believes the big advantage of APS is its independent verification. The company is now looking to extend the principles to its overseas suppliers. "It is important because our brand is vital to our consumers trust. They want safe and legal food and this is one way of guaranteeing it."

Safeway demands that all its growers are in the process of pursuing membership of the APS and Tesco has its own Natures Choice scheme.

Whether it is a supermarkets own assurance policy or the APS, the advice from the big retailers is to embrace the schemes. It is not so much a case of getting a premium for produce but rather one of guaranteeing a market, they say.

Grower comment

Opinion on the farm about APS is divided. Some contacted by farmers weekly voiced disappointment that membership of assurance schemes is not promoted to consumers through in-store advertising. But they were reluctant to be named for fear of offending the big buyers. Others were more positive. "It is not a headache, just part of farming and good practice. It is a level of insurance we need to embrace."

RETAILER DEMANDS

&#8226 Moves to 100% APS supplies.

&#8226 Imports coming under same scrutiny.

&#8226 No premium promises.

&#8226 In store promotion possible so long as non-confusing.

RETAILER DEMANDS

&#8226 Moves to 100% APS supplies.

&#8226 Imports coming under same scrutiny.

&#8226 No premium promises.

&#8226 In store promotion possible so long as non-confusing.

Grower comment

Opinion on the farm about APS is divided. Some contacted by farmers weekly voiced disappointment that membership of assurance schemes is not promoted to consumers through in-store advertising. But they were reluctant to be named for fear of offending the big buyers. Others were more positive. "It is not a headache, just part of farming and good practice. It is a level of insurance we need to embrace."