The Co-operative Food will be investing £1.5bn to source own-brand British meat, produce and dairy products from the UK. This means that for the next three years, the business will increase the amount spent on UK produce from £450m a year to £500m.
The initiative comes at a time when 90% of shoppers want supermarkets to sell more food from British farms. Customer research also shows that 81% of farmers believe retailers should support UK farming by only selling British meat and poultry.
By committing to sourcing British products over and above alternatives for its own-brand meat, poultry, produce and dairy products, Co-operative Food will ensure that all own-brand meat it sells, except New Zealand lamb and Danish bacon, will be British. The same will apply to the meat and poultry used in its chilled ready meals, pies and sandwiches as well as its eggs and milk.
Steve Murrells, chief executive of the Co-operative Food, said: “At the heart of our pledge is a commitment to be open and honest about where the food we sell comes from and to ensure that is it marketed and promoted in a fair and transparent way. Trust in retailers has been dented in recent years and we hope our openness about where we source our meat, poultry and produce will encourage more retailers to follow suit.
“Shoppers want to know about the origin of their products and if supermarkets import meat for use in products it is important that, as well as being identified on product labelling, in-store marketing should not seek to unwittingly mislead. Backing British must mean more than just rolling out the bunting.”
The Co-operative Food will continue to support its farming groups, which were launched last year to enable it to build stronger relations with producers. The announcement followed the publication of the retailer’s new UK sourcing report – Born and Bred, which reveals that almost three out of four customers have more confidence in British-sourced food, while 86% believe that food is more traceable when produced on British farms.
Commenting on the report National Farmers’ Union president, Meurig Raymond, said: “The Born and Bred Report will allow consumers and farmers to monitor the Co-operative’s performance against its sourcing commitments on an annual basis. This is of paramount importance to help instil confidence in consumers and producers alike in how the Co-operative operates continuously.
“We look forward to working with the Co-operative in helping them further their support to British agriculture.”
Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss, also praised the initiative. “This new commitment is a fantastic vote of confidence for the UK food and drink industry,” she said. “We know British consumers value products from this country, which have a world-renowned reputation for their high quality and traceability. These figures show shoppers want to buy more British – we’re supporting this by improving country of origin labelling which will be mandatory for lamb, pork, poultry and goat meat from April next year.
“I would encourage all supermarkets to carefully consider the labelling on their products so their customers know exactly where their food comes from.”