The Co-operative Group committed to promoting best practice in the fresh produce sector by signing up to the National Farmers Union’s Fruit and Vegetable Pledge.
In doing so, the Group has become the largest retailer to support the campaign, which is also backed by Aldi and Lidl.
As part of the pledge, the Group is adhering to a number of requirements including the fair treatment of suppliers, advancing planning on promotions, investing in horticultural research and increasing the amount of British fresh produce available for customers.
The announcement was made at the Group’s inaugural farming conference at Emirates Old Trafford on 20 September. The conference featured a speech from Olympic cycling champion Chris Boardman on successful teamwork.
Matt Hood, trading director for Fresh Food, told the conference that the new campaigns would focus on transparency as well as sourcing products from local and regional producers.
Michael Fletcher, the Group’s commercial director, said: “We’re thrilled to be able to announce our support for the NFU’s Fruit and Veg Pledge at the Co-op’s very first farming conference in the presence of over 300 of our farming group members, suppliers, industry and Co-op colleagues.
“We know our customers care about the provenance of their food and are keen to champion British products wherever they can. By signing up to this charter, we’re giving them further assurance on the transparency of our supply chains and making it easier than ever for them to support British farmers and growers.”
Guy Poskitt, NFU Horticulture Board vice chair, added: “We are delighted the Co-op has signed the NFU Fruit and Veg Pledge. In a week that saw farmers and politicians come together in Westminster to Back British Farming, the Co-op’s commitment to our industry shines through.
“It is a real step forward when a retailer makes two commitments to British farming in one week. With Co-op’s commitment, our British growers have a bright and prosperous future, one that they can thrive on and one that continues to offer British consumers high quality great British food.”
The pledge follows the launch of a new produce sourcing model, with the retailer introducing three-year contracts with many of its fresh-produce suppliers. The move will enable the Group to agree production programmes with their growers in advance for an agreed price, offering greater price certainty to suppliers and growers.
Dr Drew Reynolds, technical and business development director for Total Produce, who supplies the Group with soft fruit and stone fruit, said the retailer had made “significant change” in their produce strategy.
“The new strategy has seen the Co-op bolster their technical team not at quality control, but at a level where they can make a difference.
“Commercially the business is starting to talk long term contracts and focusing on suppliers, who have focussed grower groups and can provide near market technical development,” he said.
The Co-operative Group intends to keep expanding its current farming groups and plans to launch a dedicated turkey group in December.
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