3 March 2000

Urgent need for brand name approach to UK marketing

By Jeremy Hunt

MORE British farmers must urgently adopt a new approach to marketing their produce and move away from volume production of unbranded commodities, according to a report launched in Lancashire on Tuesday (Feb 29).

"The constant supply of huge quantities of unbranded UK produce is playing into the hands of the retail giants, who find it easy to push prices down in this type of marketing scenario," says Lancs farmer Thomas Binns of Clitheroe.

Mr Binns is one of the joint authors of the report compiled by 10 farmers who formed the Bowland Transnational Group last year to compare farming in their own region of the north west with similar areas in France and Ireland.

The groups report says French farmers – whose lambs are worth twice as much as those in the UK – believe British producers must take greater control of the price they receive from the market-place. "French and Irish farmers do not believe their supermarkets will dominate the retail market because producers have more control. In the UK the large retailers become uneasy when consumers start to demand specific, regionally branded products. That is when farmers can start to have more influence over price. It is a demand fired by consumer awareness of quality and high standards of production.

"It is a scenario that presents a tremendous marketing opportunity for British farmers," says the report.

It also urges UK farmers to undertake co-operative marketing as mainstream practice. Visits by the group to France and Ireland highlighted the "strong tradition of collaborative and co-operative ventures" in those countries.

"Trust among members and a disciplined structure are essential," says the report.

In a veiled criticism of the NFU it calls on the "guardians" of British farming to engage and communicate more accurately and effectively and recommends the setting up of a new European Network to allow agricultural issues to be debated at farmer level.

Clitheroe dairy and sheep producer William Slinger believes UK farmers are not always given the full facts over Brussels directives.

"How often are UK farmers told by the government that its hands are tied because Brussels says so. From personal experience gained from visits to France and Ireland I would say that this is manifest nonsense."

And to make sure UK farmers are not disadvantaged by ineffective interpretation of EC directives, the report is calling for a new system of monitoring.

The report also highlights the availability of low-interest loans and retirement schemes on offer in France and concludes that a "significant proportion" of overall UK farm income could be derived from sources other than the market-place if farmers received the support enjoyed in France and Ireland. &#42