IGD 2010: Food chain needs to help farmers deliver

Retailers and food manufacturers need to support farmers as the drive to achieve sustainability through the supply chain picks up, Joanne Denney-Finch, of food industry experts IGD has told the organisation’s annual convention.

This support included better communication, working together to reduce carbon emissions as well as achieving best practice in other areas such as welfare and production costs to bring benefits across the food chain.

Recent IGD research showed that farmers were respected by consumers, whose appreciation of value was much more complicated than in the past.

Ethics, health, technology and quality were four of the prime areas where retailers had to focus their efforts to meet customer expectations at all levels, Ms Denney-Finch said.

There was a backlash against globalisation and localism was moving from niche into the mainstream.

“Shoppers are confounding many of our preconceived ideas. The have-nots care as much as about food ethics as the haves. And the better off are equally interested in special offers,” she told the conference.

Almost one-third of shoppers were eating less meat and fish, but buying the best possible quality, and a further 30% planned to do this in future.

Value was no longer a question simply of price for many and, as resources became more scarce, consumers were having a fundamental rethink about where they bought things from and how they prepared them, with a move by many to a simpler life, Ms Denney-Finch told Farmers Weekly.

Every company was being watched more closely and judged by higher ethical standards.

“The public is increasingly aware of the impact of their food choices. Most people want to do the right thing but it’s complicated. So shoppers want to delegate some of the responsibility 39%, given the opportunity, would restrict their choice of food to those products checked and endorsed by a third-party organisation.”

Growth in ethical shopping was demonstrated by the fact that the Fairtrade brand is 66 times larger than it was 10 years ago and in IGD research showing that almost a third of UK shoppers see ethical values as a reason to try a product for a first time.

Sustainability and local supply were part of this and moves were already being made – for example the production of a carbon-neutral beer by brewer Adnams.

Health developments were reducing salt, sugar and fat intakes while technology was enabling Co-operative shoppers to see an aerial picture on their phone of the farm that grew the food they were buying.