Morrisons is aiming to increase the number of English, Welsh and Scottish suppliers it uses in response to findings that almost half of food consumed in the UK is imported.
A new scheme aims to recruit more than 200 new British suppliers in its first year. Morrisons said its buyers will host a number of regional supplier days throughout the year where producers will be able to pitch their products.
“The search will result in more customers being able to buy more food in a British supermarket that was grown, made, picked or packaged within 30-60 miles of their local store,” said Morrisons.
John Glen, CIPS economist, said reshoring supply chains would be an increasingly attractive option for buyers as supply chain risk increases this year.
Morrisons' announcement follows the release of a report, commissioned by the supermarket and written independently, which said the UK is too reliant on imported food.
Written by Professor Tim Benton, dean of strategic research initiatives at the University of Leeds, the report found only half (52%) of food consumed in the UK was produced by domestic farmers, and it said a number of countries the UK depends on for imports were already facing water shortages.
The effect of Brexit on trade with the EU, which currently supplies about a third of the UK’s food, as well as increased uncertainties around trade created by the new US president Donald Trump, also meant “it makes sense to hedge our bets and build a more resilient system,” the report said.
Unseasonably cold weather in southern Europe has caused vegetable shortages in many UK supermarkets, which are expected to continue for months.
The report also said there was customer appetite for local produce, and that there would be benefits to the national economy and the agricultural sector from sourcing locally.
“Our customers tell us they want to see more food that is made just down the road from their own communities and that’s why we are looking for the next generation of British and local food makers,” said Andy Higginson, chairmen of Morrisons.
Producers who pass an online application process will be invited to attend one of 12 suppliers days, the first of which will be held in Yorkshire next month.
Commenting on the news, Glen, who is also director of the Centre for Customised Executive Development at Cranfield School of Management, said Brexit and Trump reflected a growing trend of protectionism that was set to increase supply chain risk this year.
“Amidst exchange and commodity volatility, currency hedging will remain vital, while contingency plans must be put in place to protect supply chains from foreseeable trade barriers. Reshoring supply chains will be an increasingly attractive prospect in the months to come,” he said.
“But these are uncertain times for supply chain managers and there is no quick fix for the months ahead. It is more important than ever for supply chain managers to listen to their suppliers, develop closer relationships with them and to monitor any changes, so they can react quickly and ensure their supply chains remain resilient.”
Morrisons' report echoed concerns raised by the UK government's Committee on Climate Change about risk to the supply of food. However, a recent government climate change risk assessment concluded: “The resilience of food supply chains is regularly tested by severe weather and other events, and consistently performs well”.
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