The Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) has reported a record improvement in retailers’ trading relationships with their suppliers.
Adjudicator Christine Tacon acts as a watchdog for dealings between suppliers and the 13 largest UK retailers through the Groceries Supply Code of Practice.
The code was introduced to help address persistent complaints that large retailers were abusing their power in dealings with small-scale suppliers.
Ms Tacon introduced an annual survey of farmer-supplier opinions as a means of finding out more about retailer dealings.
It is this survey which has revealed the improvement.
Of the 1,500 retailer-suppliers, just over a third (36%) reported code-related breaches by the supermarkets in 2019.
This is a drop from 41% in the previous 12 months and the lowest result since Ms Tacon was appointed in 2013.
Over that time the proportion of suppliers experiencing code-related issues has decreased dramatically from 79% in the 2014 survey.
The survey also canvasses supplier opinion on how well each retailer has complied with the code.
Figures are still being collated for the 2020 report, but last year’s responses were encouraging.
In the 2019 survey, suppliers stated they thought retailer compliance ranged from 81% to 97%.
Respondents added that 10 out of 13 retailers had achieved a compliance rate of at least 90%.
That is a marked improvement on 2014 when opinions suggested compliance rates of between 58% and 90%.
Ms Tacon, said the latest survey showed retailer compliance was at an all-time high.
“The survey is a testament to the stronger and more effective communication between retailers and suppliers, which the GCA has fostered over the past seven years,” she added.
The NFU welcomed the results as particularly positive because the survey covered a three-week period when the sector faced disruption amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
NFU president Minette Batters said: “There’s no doubt that we’ve seen a huge behavioural and cultural change since Christine Tacon took on the GCA role.
“These new figures are testament to her hard work, collaborative approach in enforcing the code of practice, and an ability to hold retailers to account.”
However, The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) said that while it welcomed the improvements for direct suppliers, other primary producers continued to face difficulties.
TFA chief executive George Dunn pointed out that the adjudicator only regulates the relationship between the direct suppliers of the 13 biggest retailers.
“Farmers further down the chain continue to have little say in dealings,” Mr Dunn said.
“This has been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic with many businesses exposed to whatever deal is handed down to them.”
Mr Dunn called for the GCA’s remit to be extended beyond direct suppliers to protect the most vulnerable primary producers in the wider supply chain.