Millions more chickens to make Tesco 100% British

Getting Tesco to offer “100% British” beyond just its fresh poultrymeat offering will require an extra 4.5 million birds a week and a £300m investment, according to Ranjit Singh, chief executive of 2 Sisters Food Group – and there’s still the problem of what to do with all the dark meat.

Mr Singh told the NFU Conference that those extra birds would need about 800 new sheds to be grown in. But his business had about 30% spare capacity in processing facilities, he added.

He was joined in a panel discussion by George Eustice, DEFRA farming minister; Kevin Grace, commercial director for Tesco; and Martyn Jones, corporate services director at Morrisons.

“The one thing you’ve got to understand,” said Mr Singh, “is that this nation is a white meat nation.” Tesco has worked to redress this balance by introducing lines using more dark meat, “so we’re creating products that actually help us out. Once you’ve completed that, you move on to other categories.”

Asked if 2 Sisters should be awarding better returns to farmers to drive growth, he said, “How does that get the carcass balance right?

“You need consumers to buy more dark meat, or we’ve got to start growing chickens with no legs.”

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Mr Singh said there was an 18-month “delayed phase” between desiring extra poultrymeat and it coming to market, and the challenge of planning permission only held this up.

“When we start building, we want to carry on. We don’t want to stop and start.” Expansion, he added, needed to be sustainable and steady and farm businesses that supplied 2 Sisters “have to be on a growth agenda”.

“You will not be able to sustain a business standing still – you’ve got to continue to grow.” He added that this didn’t mean an end to small-scale family farming, simply that farmers “must understand which part of the market you’re playing in”.