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Keep customers close and expect further change – Co-op boss

Steve Murrells addressed Brexit, climate change and labour concerns during keynote speech at Oxford Farming Conference

Keep customers close and expect further change – Co-op boss

Steve Murrells spoke at the Oxford Farming Conference on 5 Jan 2018

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Fresh produce suppliers should “keep close to customers” and assume that tastes and behaviours will keep changing, the chief executive of the Co-op Group has said.

Steve Murrells, who was speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference last week, offered advice for “embracing change in the age of Brexit”.

Companies should “never lose sight of commercial realities”, he said, and look to add value to products that others can’t match and can’t copy.

Climate change was another key topic for Murrells, calling it “one of those big issues that’s already changing the way we live and work and do business”.

Speaking about Brexit and climate change, he said: “The air and the sea don’t recognise lines on a map. So our future relationship with Europe has to recognise that a coordinated, cooperative approach to climate change is needed if we’re to create level playing fields for businesses all across the globe.”

He called for more certainty on the access to labour and rights for workers who are already here.

“The bottom line is we don’t have the right labour in the right places that we need it in UK today. And we are an ageing population. We’ll continue to need both skilled and unskilled labour to come to this country to work in many sectors. Let’s not make that harder to achieve through an un-cooperative Brexit.”

He also called for policies that would encourage more cooperatives in farming, which he said would create more resilience, fairness and sustainability, especially in times of market volatility.

“My final thought is that we live in a world where every major economic and social issue we face has a global dimension,” he said.

“Issues such as climate change; the movement of labour; the need for long-term resilience in our communities, all have an international dimension. One things for certain, you can’t embrace change like this by becoming ‘little Britain’.”

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