British Berry Growers criticises GSCOP ahead of Parliamentary debate on protecting supermarket suppliers

Nick Marston

Nick Marston

British Berry Growers chairman Nick Marston has described The Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP) as “not fit for purpose” ahead of a debate in Parliament this afternoon (22 January) to determine its future.

In a statement sent to FPJ today, Marston calls for “stronger, clearer legislation” which will get retailers to commit to being growers’ long-term partners.

’The Groceries Supply Code of Practice to better protect farmers’ is being debated in Westminster after a petition to amend it received over 112,000 signatures.

Launched by Riverford Organic Farmers founder Guy Singh-Watson, the petition states: “We want the Government to amend the Grocery Supply Code of Practice (GSCP) to require retailers, without exception, to: buy what they agreed to buy; pay what they agreed to pay; and pay on time. We believe the current GSCP is inadequate and doesn’t protect farmers from unfair behaviour.”

Commenting ahead of today’s debate, Marston – whose association represents 95 per cent of the UK’s commercial soft fruit growers, said: “The current Groceries Supply Code of Practice is limited in scope, and is not fit for purpose in today’s inflationary marketplace.

”Growers are struggling with static returns and ever-increasing costs, especially labour costs. This is creating a crisis for British producers who cannot now grow fresh berries on a financially sustainable basis.”

He added that two-thirds of British berry growers surveyed said that they had little confidence in their future, and confidence in their retailer partners had been dented.

“While supermarkets prices have risen, prices paid to growers have not,” Marston said. “For strawberries, the cost of production has increased by 18p per 400g pack since 2021. Retail shelf prices have risen by 27p pack over this period – an increase of 14.8 per cent. However, average grower returns are up by only 2.3 per cent or 3.6p.

“Currently there is no requirement for fair dealing on pricing in GSCOP. Supermarkets can put up their prices to shoppers at a push of a button; growers cannot. Growers would like this addressed.”

Marston said the industry needs stronger, clearer legislation which will get retailers to commit to being long term partners, paying growers a fair price and buying British when in season.

“We also need to impose rules to prevent legislation avoidance by retailers by inserting service providers into the chain and for government to take a strong line on protocol breaches,” he said.

“There’s no denying GSCOP has made a difference and has put an end to some appalling practices, but it needs reform, and now, to give growers a fair chance,” Marston concluded.