Waitrose MD Mark Price has defended the use of distribution centres by supermarkets to get food into their stores.

Last month Soil Association director and vegetable grower Patrick Holden blamed the poor quality of his carrots in Sainsbury's on the retailer's method of transporting them. They were taken from fields in Wales to a packaging plant at Peterborough, then freighted to RDCs ready to be sent to stores.

Price told The Grocer this week it was essential for food to be transported to distribution centres to ensure modern customer demands were met. "Customers want the values of local food but also want the advantages of convenience and economies that working with a central distribution system brings.

"If we were only going to sell extremely fresh fish straight from the trawler, we could only do it in a few branches, so we have to think about how distribution can help us deliver fresh products."

Meanwhile, new Defra secretary of state Hilary Benn has praised Waitrose for supporting British farmers through its local sourcing policies and urged other retailers to follow suit.

"If a supermarket like Waitrose can do it, lots of people can," he said at the Royal Show. "I want to get the supermarket industry to see that what is good for their customers will be good for farmers."

Waitrose promises that all local food comes from within 30 miles of the store it is sold in.

Analysis p28