The Co-operative Group will become the first major UK food retailer to switch all of its fresh bacon and lamb to 100% British-sourced. The announcement came during the British Food Fortnight which the retailer is sponsoring.
The Group pledged to stock 100% own-brand fresh British beef, chicken, pork, lamb, bacon and turkey. It is already the only retailer to use British meat in all its chilled ready meals, pies and sandwiches.
The switch will not take place until May 2017, to allow the Group to source suppliers.
Secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, Andrea Leadsom, said: “We should rightly have pride in Britain’s reputation for producing quality meat and today’s announcement is a real vote of confidence in our farmers and an industry that is the bedrock of our economy.
“It’s great to see the Co-op taking the lead to celebrate the best of British and supporting our Great British Food campaign.”
The Group is launching a three-year plan to invest £1.5bn into sourcing UK meat and vegetables. By sourcing 100% British lamb, the retailer will be supporting around 1,700 sheep farmers across England, Scotland and Wales. Both the lamb and bacon produced will have the Red Tractor quality mark, a product certification programme.
The retailer’s fresh milk is 100% British and sourced from a group of 200 dairy farmers across Britain, who make up the Co-operative Dairy Group. Its own-brand liquid milk, yogurts, block butter and cheddar cheese are also sourced from British milk.
Steve Murrells, retail chief executive at the Group, said: “We are a major supporter of British farming. This move is a first for a major food retailer and will see us invest millions more into sourcing home produced goods.
“It’s an exciting time at the Co-op and our growing confidence is shown by our investment in UK farming as we do business a better way to meet consumer demand.”
Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association, said: “This is an important step for the Co-op and is a resounding endorsement for British farming. It’s important that retailers do more than roll out the bunting in their aisles to support UK farming and switching to home-produced bacon is the strongest move a retailer can make.”
The initiative was also welcomed by NFU president, Meurig Raymond, who said: “We applaud this bold move by the Co-op to sell only British lamb and bacon. In a week that saw farmers and politicians unite at Westminster to back our industry, this decision shows a real commitment to quality British food and the farmers that produce it.
“The public tells us time and again that they want to see more British food on supermarket shelves and it’s fantastic to see that the Co-op has recognised this and realised that it makes strong business sense to support British farmers.
“In the face of market uncertainty post-Brexit, the Co-op’s commitment to source British lamb all year round is particularly important in providing the support and stability to help British sheep farming thrive and sends a clear message that British lamb really is the best in the world.”