Retailers urged to adopt dairy model in horticulture

The fresh produce industry is lagging far behind other areas of agriculture in terms of a profitable and functioning supply chain, the NFU chief horticulture adviser has claimed.

Hayley Campbell-Gibbons, the former NFU chief dairy adviser who was speaking at last week’s FPJ South West conference in Bristol, said the fresh produce industry should look to dairy as a model for how to succeed.

Campbell-Gibbons pointed out that the dairy sector was on its knees 10 years ago, with milk supply in long-term decline and farmers receiving below production-cost prices. However, the industry went as one to the supermarkets and managed to secure several groundbreaking initiatives.

In milk, Tesco is held up as a model customer, Campbell-Gibbons revealed. The supermarket operates a transparent price tracker, whereby it pays suppliers a guaranteed above production-cost price calculated independently by consultant Promar. The price is guaranteed for six months.

“If retailers can do it on milk, they can do it on produce,” Campbell-Gibbons reasoned. “We [NFU and industry] must be stronger to say that’s what we want. The NFU is committed to a stronger supply chain. We need to be clearer to retailers that a stronger chain is an essential part of a healthy industry, and if we can get them to invest their own margins [in price promotions] that would be much better.”

She was speaking after a DEFRA survey showed 24 per cent of fresh produce growers failed to turn a profit in 2010-11 - the worst figure of any agricultural sector.

Campbell-Gibbons also took her quest for supply chain transparency to the EFFP conference in London on Tuesday, where she questioned pannellists on why they thought the horticulture sector provided the lion’s share of ammunition for a groceries adjudicator, had the fewest examples of retail supply chain collaboration and saw more businesses losing money.