Red Tractor week (14-21 June) is set to celebrate 10 years of Great British food and farming. Johann Tasker gets a taster
Ministers will join farm leaders in central London next week to celebrate 10 years of the Red Tractor logo – the industry-backed assurance scheme which promotes British food and drink.
From its humble beginnings a decade ago, the Red Tractor has come a long way. Launched on the steps of Downing Street by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, it now appears on £10bn of food and drink products every year.
But the logo is about much more than just the promotion of British food, insists David Gregory, chairman of Assured Food Standards, the independent body which oversees the Red Tractor scheme.
“It highlights the high standards followed by UK producers and gives consumers the assurance they need on safety and welfare. Our aim now is to make Red Tractor products the preferred choice of British consumers.”
Today, there are 78,000 Red Tractor assured farmers and well over 100,000 food and feed businesses supporting the scheme. Every step of the supply chain is independently inspected. Failure means the logo cannot be used.
Despite a shoestring budget compared to much bigger brands, the logo is now used by all major retailers and more than 500 food and drink firms. It appears on meat, vegetables, fruit, salads, milk, cheese, butter, sugar, beer and flour.
High profile supporters include Britain’s big supermarket chains, such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s. But the logo is also backed by some of Britain’s biggest brands, such as Silverspoon and Country Life.
“Since its launch 10 years ago, the Red Tractor scheme has brought together leading producers, processors and retailers and has gone from strength to strength,” says Mr Gregory.
The scheme was launched to re-establish confidence in British agriculture at a time when the industry was struggling to cope with falling farm incomes and the fallout from a series of food scares.
The past decade has seen stronger standards developed for farming and food production, with a growing number of food service companies keen to source assured British produce that bears the logo.
At Prime Meats, a division of Brakes, selling quality assured British products has become an integral part of the company’s customer-driven business strategy, explains director Rob McFarlane.
“Our growing range of Red Tractor products demonstrates our continued commitment to great farming and to offering quality assured products to discerning customers.”
True, the logo has had its critics. In the early days, some feared it might appear on foreign food because complicated European rules meant it could only promote food produced to British standards, not food that was simply British.
In the event, it never happened. And it isn’t likely to, because AFS has since secured European Union permission to include a union flag in the logo – an achievement that Mr Gregory is keen to highlight.
“The flag in the Red Tractor logo guarantees the origin of the food. So the Union Jack flag tells you that the product has been farmed, processed and packed in the UK. No-one else using a union flag has that guarantee.”
Farmers, food processors and consumers are reaping the benefits. Shoppers get an easily-recognisable guarantee of quality, while producers have seen assurance schemes simplified and re-aligned under the Red Tractor brand.
Recent funding from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, which represents the main farm sectors, will help to deliver strong messages about the quality and standards of production across the food chain.
Re-branding the schemes will link the farm logo with the consumer Red Tractor logo and help shoppers identify that the products they are buying are from a Red Tractor farm, believes NFU president Peter Kendall.
“The alignment of farm standards along with the new funding from the AHDB will help to achieve clearer messages about the quality and standards of production by our committed farmers and growers.
“It is vital that our agricultural and horticultural products, which are produced to high, independently inspected standards, are distinguishable in the market place by the Red Tractor logo.”
WHAT YOU SAY
“The logo is synonymous with quality home-produced food that guarantees high animal welfare and environmental standards, so it’s great to be able simply to tell people to look out for the Red Tractor and help support our farmers.” – Rosie Dunn, livestock producer, Yorkshire
“By buying Red Tractor products consumers know that every aspect of production has been rigorously checked, and they can have complete confidence that their food has been produced from healthy animals with great care for the environment.” – Clive Gurney, dairy farmer, Herefordshire
“Being part of the scheme allows me to demonstrate to the consumer by means of the Red Tractor, that the turkey I produce is grown to the highest standards of welfare, and stockmanship” – Ben Hay, turkey producer, Warwickshire
“I’ve been following Red Tractor standards for 10 years now; it shows our customers the high standards we maintain in our production methods, the safety and quality of our milk leaving the farm premises.” – Louise Hart, dairy producer, Isle of Wight
WHAT THEY SAY
“The Red Tractor mark communicates to our customers, at a glance, that they are buying into high standards of production and the inclusion of the union flag guarantees they are supporting British farmers.” – Colin Holmes, commercial director
“By being part of the Red Tractor scheme, we are able to provide our customers with a guarantee of traceability back to producers that meet the scheme’s high standards of agricultural practice and food safety.” – Michelle Hanson, commercial director
‘Country Life is the only major butter brand to carry the Red Tractor seal of approval, providing assurance that the butter has been produced in to high standards from farm right through to your fridge – with a guarantee of origin.” – Sophie Lyons, senior brand manager
“Selling quality assured British products is an integral part of our customer-driven strategy. Our growing range of Red Tractor products demonstrates our continued commitment to great farming and to quality assured products.” – Rob McFarlane, director
“We use our tractors to help consumers’ connect with how their food is produced and to explain farming’s commitment to quality that is behind the Red Tractor brand. This has to be good for our farmers. – David Sleath, director sales & country manager, AGCO
Janet Street Porter leads anniversary celebrations
Running from 14-20 June, Red Tractor Week will kick off with a high profile photocall featuring TV celebrity Janet Street Porter.
Farmers and other supporters are being encouraged to download marketing and promotional material – including ready-made posters, banners, and leaflets – from the Red Tractor website at www.redtractor.org.uk/week.
These can then be tailored to match local celebrations and activities. The aim is to encourage the whole supply chain to work together to communicate Red Tractor values to consumers.
“Red Tractor represents a unique assurance of quality production across the whole food chain and Red Tractor Week is a celebration of the industry’s achievements over the past 10 years,” says AFS chairman David Gregory.
“We’ve had extremely enthusiastic feedback from retailers and foodservice providers who are looking to support Red Tractor Week and the online toolkit will really help Red Tractor members get the most out of the week.”
Other promotional activity includes a national media relations campaign, special events at supermarkets, restaurants, pubs and schools around the country, media promotions and giveaways.
Meanwhile, a specially created on-line Summer Eating Guide will help increase consumer awareness. Shoppers will be able to find out more about the Red Tractor and what it means at www.myredtractor.co.uk.
2000 – Tony Blair launches Red Tractor on the steps of Downing Street
2004 – Logo redesigned to make it more attractive
2006 – Logo appears on £5bn of food and drink
2007 – Logo promotes breakfast cereals and beer
2009 – Logo breaks through the £10bn barrier
2010 – 10th anniversary celebrations
Major companies using the logo
Aldi, Allinson, Asda, Brakes, Budgens’ Cathedral City’ The Co-operative Food, Country Life, Cravendale, Dairy Crest, Greene King, HMS Host, John Lewis, Lidl, McCain, Morrisons, Nestlé, The Orchid Group, Pauleys Fresh Produce, Prime Meats, Sainsbury’s, Silver Spoon, Sodexo, Tesco, Waitrose, Welcome Break, Wells & Young’s