High-profile Riverford campaign aims to persuade supermarkets to give growers a fairer deal

Dragon’s Den star Deborah Meaden, chef Rick Stein and wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham are among a number of household names supporting a campaign urging supermarkets to give a fairer deal to the UK’s struggling growers.

The move comes as half (49 per cent) of British fruit and vegetable growers say it’s likely they will go out of business in the next 12 months, and many blame supermarkets and their buyers as a leading threat to their livelihoods, according to sobering new research by organic veg box company Riverford.

According to Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, supermarkets and their buyers are accused of not paying on time, pursuing cheaper food alternatives from overseas, and cancelling or changing orders at the last minute, with growers also criticising fruit and veg specifications for being too hard and complex.

Three quarters (75 per cent) of those surveyed by Riverford say the behaviour of supermarkets is a leading concern within the industry. According to the research, one in five growers (22 per cent) say they have suffered a wasted crop due to cancelled orders from supermarkets, 29 per cent have also received a cancelled order from supermarkets with no explanation and just under a third (29 per cent) have seen supermarkets failing to pay them within 30 days.

However, 70 per cent of growers surveyed agreed it would have a positive impact if buyers paid the amount initially agreed, and did not then slash prices after the initial agreement. A further 64 per cent agreed it would have a positive impact if buyers bought everything they committed to buy.

‘What is it all for?’

Pembrokeshire potato grower Tessa Elliott said: “It’s scary because we have to ask ourselves ‘what is it all for then’? Why are we putting in all these hours and doing what we love - ultimately to grow a premium potato to put on people’s plates all year round - if we can’t afford to feed ourselves?”

Sustain chief executive Kath Dalmeny added: “Farmers and food suppliers need far better protection from unfair and sometimes abusive practices by the big supermarkets. Retailers make unreasonable demands, create waste and keep too much of the value.

”Our own research shows that farmers and growers typically get less than a penny of the profit on packs of everyday foods. Many are thinking of leaving farming because it is such hard work for so little financial return, just when we need to increase production and consumption of sustainable fruit and veg. Government must step in and strengthen the rules so that more and better fruit and veg is available and affordable for all.”

Supermarkets challenged in open letter

An open letter signed by over 100 leading figures and addressed to the CEOs of the nation’s ‘big six’ supermarkets - Ken Murphy (Tesco), Simon Roberts (Sainsbury’s), Stuart Rose (Asda), David Potts (Morrisons), Giles Hurley (Aldi), and Ryan McDonnell (Lidl) - has called for supermarkets to treat farmers more fairly.

Signatories include industry bodies like Sustain and the Soil Association, as well as entrepreneur Deborah Meaden, conservationist Ray Mears, JLS singer and farmer JB Gill, Mumford and Sons singer and farmer Marcus Mumford, TV presenters Chris Packham, Julia Bradbury and Jimmy Doherty, and chefs Rick Stein, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Melissa Hemsley.

The letter is part of a new #GetFairAboutFarming campaign, launched by Riverford, calling for supermarkets to adopt better business practices to safeguard the future of British fruit and veg farming, starting with committing to Riverford’s Fair to Farmers charter principles of: Pay what you agreed to pay; Buy what you committed to buy; Agree on fair specifications; Commit for the long term; and Pay on time. 

Riverford has also launched a petition calling on the government to intervene and protect Britain’s broken food system from further collapse.