01 March 1999
UK supermarkets make big money, admits Brown

By FWi staff

AGRICULTURE minister Nick Brown has finally acknowledged that British food retailers make bigger profits than their counterparts in the rest of Europe.

Mr Browns frank admission, which was made during interview with journalist Catey Hill, is published in the new edition of Food Illustrated magazine.

It comes just weeks before the publication of an Office of Fair Trading report into supermarket buying power and profitability.

During the interview, which took place over dinner at Mortons restaurant in London, chef Garry Hollihead explained to Mr Brown why he prefers using foreign ingredients.

Other than the Scottish Aberdeen Angus beef, the cheese, chocolates, olive oil and most of the fresh produce used at Mortons is imported from France.

“The quality is right and the prices are generally 20 per cent lower,” Mr Hollihead is reported as saying.

Mr Brown replies that persuading people to buy British food is a matter for farmers rather than for the government.

“I cant make you buy British,” he told Mr Hollihead. “But its clearly a marketing issue for producers.”

Mr Brown then admits that that price might have something to do with people buying food from abroad rather than from British farms.

“It also shows retailers are taking a bigger cut in the UK,” he says.

Many farmers are likely to seize on Mr Browns statement as a vindication of their claims that supermarkets are failing to pass on low livestock prices to consumers.

Tesco claimed last year that it wasnt making any money out of red-meat sales, despite a fall in market prices of 30% since the BSE crisis.

But former farm minister John Gummer last year described the buying policies of some supermarket chains as “unprincipled and insensitive”.