22 October 1999

Well take on supermarts

& do it ourselves – Welsh

By FWreporters

A HANDFUL of Welsh farmers has embarked on an audacious attempt to take on Britains supermarkets by opening their own food stores across the country.

Eleven farmers and five local businessmen from Monmouthshire plan to open a national chain of food outlets on the outskirts of major towns.

A meeting was arranged by Rhys Parry, a veteran of farmers protests against supermarkets, and Terry Bayliss, chairman of the Farmers Ferry.

The farmers voiced concern about being squeezed by any price war between supermarkets. They decided to help themselves by retailing their own produce.

Mr Bayliss said the whole project was at a very early stage and he was already hearing from doubters who said it will never get off the ground.

But he added: "The response from people who have heard about the meeting has been tremendous. They know that the big retailers are screwing them, and that things will get worse. We cant beat them so we will have to join them selling directly to consumers."

Mr Parry said each member of the group had already donated £2000 to the initiative and £250,000 could be raised if 125 people did the same. The shops would sell locally produced meat, milk, vegetables and fruit.

Although the project is ambitious, the farmers hope to secure space from existing agricultural supply co-operatives. They know that Asda, one of Britains big five supermarkets, traces its roots back to a similar farmer-led initiative during the 1920s.

Asda spokeswoman Rachel Fellows said the supermarket still worked closely with some of its older local suppliers.

"This is where a farmer-operated group would have an advantage."

But food retailing has changed completely since Asda opened its first shop, said Hayley Myers, analyst at London-based consultants Retail Intelligence.

"The grocery sector is one of the most competitive and concentrated markets in the UK," she said.

But the farmers might break into the market if they differentiate themselves from existing outlets by selling local produce.

"They cant hope to compete on price but there certainly is a gap in the market if they offer something in addition to the weekly shop," said Ms Myers.

The farmers plan to meet again in early November. If interest in south-east Wales is strong, a national appeal will be launched asking every farmer to donate £5/acre (£12/ha).