christine tacon

Groceries Code Adjudicator Christine Tacon

Groceries Code Adjudicator Christine Tacon has seen a surge in complaints about retailers, with supermarket behaviour related to the EU fresh food shortages and Brexit causing most concern.

Tacon told the Grocer that while the overall conduct of the supermarkets had improved, suppliers were showing much greater willingness to come forward to raise possible breaches of the code.

Speaking in an exclusive interview ahead of the launch of the latest GCA supplier survey, today, Tacon said the GCA would once again be publishing a “killer slide” showing a league table of how retailers shaped up in the eyes of their suppliers.

She said it had proved to be “absolute dynamite” in changing the behaviour of the supermarkets.

“I’ve started to see a strong pattern of people coming forward to talk to me about the same retailers doing the same thing,” Tacon said.

“It’s all just started to come out and people are coming to me with information about genuine issues that are a possible breach of the code.”

Tacon said retailer forecasting behaviour was one of the key themes of the recent tide of complaints.

The recent shortages in supply of products such as lettuces from Spain, which saw empty shelves in all of the big supermarkets, was once such issue.

The Adjudicator said supermarkets had been accused of failing to be transparent in their forecasting as they tried to keep prices down and also sought alternative sources of supply to make up for the shortages. Some suppliers had been forced to pay the cost of supermarkets finding alternative sources, said Tacon, while other complaints concerned a lack of communication over pricing strategy during the crisis.

“Some of this has been having a huge impact on forecasting,” she said.

Brexit-related forecasting issues also caused complaints, said Tacon, with some retailers being accused of introducing price increases on the shelf far above the cost increases negotiated with suppliers.

Although supermarket bosses have been fighting a well-publicised battle to keep prices down amid calls from suppliers for increased costs, in some cases she said uncommunicated price increases had been put through on products, which had wreaked havoc with supplier forecasts.

“There are instances of this happening because of Brexit, though it’s not across the board,” said Tacon.

Suppliers receiving no compensation or incurring penalties because of inaccurate retailer forecasting is just one of the ways supermarkets will be named and shamed in the results of the survey, which will be published in June.

Tacon said it was proving to be “very powerful in driving change”.

“When retailers see that killer slide about their behaviour and how they compare with their rivals, that is absolute dynamite,” she said. “It has really galvanised the retailers and made them take action.”

Last year, suppliers rated Aldi, Sainsbury’s and Lidl as the top three supermarkets in terms of complying ‘consistently well’ and ‘mostly’ with the code during the previous 12 months.

The survey is available on the GCA website and is open until 17 April.