In response to a motion from the Central and Eastern region that said the Group must be responsive to the needs of the local communities it serves, the Co-operative Group has stated that it will be a leading supporter of local and regional food producers by 2015.
The motion said stores have an “inability” to stock food that reflects the local community, and that its funeral division does not reflect needs of people either.
Putting the motion forward, Chris Dry from the region said: “Please do not miss the wider concern behind this motion. Centralisation brings benefits in efficiencies – however, we have lost some of our local feel. We’ve lost it in a way the independent societies have not. We need to capture our local identity.”
A response from the board said it is looking at simplified trading terms and supply chain support to allow smaller producers into stores. It says some stores do carry some local lines, for example clotted cream in the south west of England, while in Scotland, Angus Bell has been appointed as dedicated regional buyer in a pilot exercise. If successful then a roll-out plan may be considered, said the board.
Patrick Grange, Co-operative Group director and chair of the food subsidiary board, added: “It is an ambition of our food business unit that by the 2015 AGM, the Co-operative will be widely recognised as the leading supporter of local and regional food producers.”
But such a move has “operational challenges”, according to the board. With stores across every postal region and in a variety of sizes, a set of plans for each branch has to produced. It said changing one tin of soup could require more than 400 plans to be drawn.
The food team is leading up to identifying groups of specific needs that appear in specific stores or for specific customer groups (e.g. Polish products, halal, gluten free etc.).
The Group board also said Funeralcare does respond to the needs of local communities and “every client is offered the opportunity to create a funeral memorable to each individual circumstance”.
The motion was carried by 64% of the votes.
A motion from the Wales/Cymru region also called for “a commitment to genuine local sourcing by the establishment of regional buyers to allow flexibility, responsiveness, and sensitivity to local demands”. This was also carried by delegates.