1 March 1996

Space on shelf not guaranteed

THE ABP-SAINSBURY partnership was the brainchild of Ron Williams, the meat companys former sales and marketing manager.

Now retired, he is convinced that for beef to retain its market, the scheme has to be the forerunner of many similar producer-processor-retailer associations committed to quality.

"Farmers have to learn that they have no God-given right to get beef into supermarket display cabinets," says Mr Williams. "Beef is a commodity just like any of the others a store may stock. If it does not sell, it will not get shelf space."

Two factors, price and perceived quality, dictate sales. It is necessary, Mr Williams believes, to build bridges between the different interests involved in getting beef to the consumer.

Deeply ingrained mistrust and lack of understanding need to be eliminated to get the right product on the plate at a price that gives a fair return to everyone involved.

"When the partnership started in 1989, there was a core of about 50 committed beef producers, now there are 850. They know their futures in beef production depend on understanding the importance of quality and customer demands for assurance on production methods and food safety.

"Too many others still seem to believe that there will always be a market for whatever they produce. They spend £500/head on store cattle and have no idea how they will sell them a few months later. There is tremendous consumer loyalty for beef, but this has to be defended in a changing market place."

Mr Williams claims producers who supply the partnership get more than a £6/head premium. They also get information about other markets and about the quality of their cattle. By following cattle through a plant, they learn about the importance of killing-out percentage, conformation and fat level, and how to get paid more for improving them.n

Last year 90% of the Morris familys cattle earned a premium payment for meeting ABP-Sainsburys specifications.