Tesco aims to break down local food barriers

Tesco kicked off its latest drive to stock more local food in its stores with the launch of its local sourcing initiative in Cornwall last Friday (15 September).

The event, which was the first in a planned series of events scheduled to take place around the UK, was in collaboration with Taste of the West, the region’s food promotional body.

More than 100 of the county’s producers turned out at Prideaux Place, Padstow to showcase their wares. The produce on display ranged from cheeses and butters to fresh vegetables to cured meats and even Cornish biltong.

Currently Tesco stocks 112 Cornish lines from around 20 suppliers and wishes to expand the range, but has found it difficult to accommodate smaller suppliers.

In an attempt to improve the situation Tesco is changing the way it operates to work within the capabilities of small producers – even if they can supply only one or two stores.

Tesco commercial director Richard Brasher used the opportunity to announce the retailer’s decision to invest £2m in sourcing local produce. Tesco, he said, is currently in the process of recruiting regional buying directors to serve England and Wales.

Each one will have an office in their region to make them more accessible to producers and part of their remit will be to identify ways in which to work with smaller suppliers. It also plans to improve the in-store signage of local products to give it more prominence.

“There’s a lot of folklore associated with supplying major retailers. Today’s about meeting us so you can form your own opinions. We’re very interested in long-term relationships,” said Mr Brasher.

“It maybe that you don’t want to supply Tesco, and that’s fine, but I hope you will learn what it would be like to work with a major retailer,” he added.

Asked if the retailer’s desire to stock more local produce was just another example of a major retailer following the latest consumer fad Mr Brasher denied that was the case.

Satisfying demand

“The seeds for this initiative were sown in the mid-1990s when we acquired a business in Northern Ireland. We investigated what made that business successful and it became apparent that it was its ability to satisfy demand for local food,” he said.

“We then took that model and applied it to our stores in Scotland where we appointed a regional buyer – the results were replicated. We are now expanding that model nationwide.”

One of the producers who attended the Antiques Roadshow-style event was David Lambrick, Trenance Farm, St. Keverne. Of the three cheeses he was offering Tesco expressed the greatest interest in Toppenrose Gold, a Brie produced on his farm from the milk of his 80 Holstein Friesian cows.

Mr Lambrick said: “It went very well; I even received some positive feedback on the logo. We have arranged to meet again in two weeks time to discuss pricing and logistics of getting the cheese into store.”

Mr Lambrick said the decision to move into cheese production was for economic reasons.

“We decided a few years ago that we would have to diversify if we were to secure the future of the family farm. We believe going into Tesco will enable us to do that,” he said.

Initially he hopes to start supplying up to three of Tesco’s Cornwall stores by the end of the year before eventually supplying all 12 in the county.

Another producer who left feeling confident after the event was James Kittow of Killhallon Quality Meats. On display was his selection of sausages and organic beef.

“It’s been very beneficial and I’m pleased I came. We have agreed to meet again in the next four to six weeks to agree terms,” he said.

John Sheaves, Taste of the West chief executive, said he welcomed Tesco’s attempts to get closer to small producers.

“We talk to all the retailers from Asda to Marks & Spencer and Waitrose and they all have similar ambitions. But they all request that farmers adapt from being producers of basic goods to marketers of food.”

For information about how Tyrell’s crisps have snubbed Tesco:

Tesco snubbed by Tyrells crisps