Weak supply chain endangers British fruit and veg supply

23 July 2012

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23 July 2012 | Kamalpreet Badasha

British cucumbers, tomatoes and mushrooms could disappear from supermarket shelves due to weaknesses in the supply chain.

A report from the National Farmers’ Union, Catalyst For Change, blames weaknesses in the supply chain for reducing ‘self sufficiency’ - the amount of food domestically produced and consumed.

The self-sufficiency of crops fell by 25 per cent for cucumbers, 10 per cent for tomatoes, 40 per cent for spring onions and 15 per cent for mushrooms leaving them with ‘endangered’ status. Domestic production has fallen for these crops while demand has increased. Other crops described as ‘at risk’ of becoming endangered include Brussels sprouts, cauliflowers, lettuces and leeks. There could also be a knock-on effect on the £3 billion the horticulture and potatoes sector contributes to UK GDP.

Poor business practices contributing to supply chain weaknesses include a lack of certainty over prices, late payments, buyers not committing to growers’ production programmes and producers increasingly asked to make substantial financial contributions to longer and more frequent retail promotions.

The report recommended the risk for farmers can be reduced by increasing price certainty using price formulas, transparent pricing calculations, and agreeing fixed prices with buyers in advance. Supply chain stability can be increased by introducing long-term contracts between retailers, intermediaries and growers. Contracts should also include a commitment from the customer up to a year in advance to buy produce from growers’ production programmes. It goes on to say retail promotional plans should reflect changes in supply and demand.

The NFU are also asking retailers, packers and processors to sign up to the ‘Fruit and veg pledge’, which aims to encourage immediate action to address bad practices as outlined by the report.

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