The industry group rebuffs British Retail Consortium claim that growers are losing pay to middlemen

Nick Marston

Nick Marston

British Berry Growers – which represents 95 per cent of commercial UK softfruit producers – has strongly criticised comments on supermarket pay to farmers made by the British Retail Consortium to the BBC Countryfile programme yesterday (10 December).

In a segment on the dire state of the UK horticulture sector, Andrew Opie – the BRC’s director of food and sustainability – said that retailers are in fact paying growers more, but that these payments are getting stuck with middlemen.

BBG has dismissed his remarks as “simply not true”, stating that growers have direct relationships with retailers who just aren’t paying them enough.

Nick Marston, BBG chairman, said: “Andrew Opie said that retailers were listening to farmers and growers and paying more money but somehow these increased payments were getting stuck in the middle, with the middlemen.

“In our sector that’s simply not true. Our growers have direct relationships with retailers, or very transparent relationships through producer organisations, and despite constant material that we have given retailers about their massive increase in the cost of production of fresh berries in this country, we have seen no action at all.”

Marston added that there is a disconnect between retailer prices and production costs. The cost of production for a punnet of strawberries has gone up by 18p in the last two years and is set to go up another 6p when the National Living Wage increase comes in next year, he said.

“Kantar data shows that retail shelf prices have risen by 27p per pack over this period but our grower survey of BBG’s members revealed that the average return per pack has only gone up by 4p.

“Talk is cheap. There are no middlemen. Retailers are simply not paying our growers any more money and that is unsustainable.

“We are calling on retailers to take real action, listen to growers about their cost increases and reward them for producing fresh berries in order for them to stay in business.”