30 November 2006 | Antony Barton
Sainsbury's is to source more food from local and smaller suppliers in an attempt to provide better product availability and fresher produce.
The supermarket chain will promote a scheme designed to make it easier for small and medium-sized suppliers to sell their food through its stores. "Supply something new…", was piloted in May and involves supermarket representatives travelling around the UK in search of medium and small suppliers every two months.
Producers can attend workshops where they will have 40 minutes to convince a panel of Sainsbury's experts that their goods should be sold by the chain. Suppliers will be told almost immediately if the pitch is successful and they could see their products in the stores within three months.
Last year Sainsbury's set up a Northern Ireland office and held local supplier conferences there and in Scotland to identify opportunities to extend local sourcing.
The move resulted in the number of product lines from Northern Ireland rising to 1,000, an increase of 30 per cent since August 2005. The company is attempting to take its total range of branded and own-label Scottish products to more than 20,000 lines.
Overall, the company claims to use a network of more than 3,500 small, local producers and is looking to increase this number over the next year.
The chain has also introduced milk contracts that tie it to its farmers for at least three years and three months, so farmers can invest in the conversion to organic standards and meet the rising demand for organic milk.
This month's first-half interim results show Sainsbury's sales rose 8 per cent to £9.6 billion. Chief executive Justin King said this was mainly due to consumers' desire for "fresh, quality and healthy food".
Only two years ago, Sainsbury's announced its worst ever pre-tax results because of poorly stocked shelves and a failing supply chain. Automated depots failed to perform as expected ("Digital disaster", Features, 2 December 2004).