Dairy farmers have claimed a major breakthrough in their relationship with Iceland, after the frozen food specialist agreed to open its books to prove it is not benefiting from milk price cuts made by processors.
The move comes after farmers last night turned up to protest at an Iceland distribution centre in Warrington, with campaigners gearing up for the second phase of their milk protest campaign.
Iceland insists it has not benefited from farmgate milk price cuts made by the processors. The company’s management has now decided to give farmer campaign group Farmers for Action access to its accounts to prove its case.
“Iceland is a major supporter of British milk and British agriculture, buying virtually all of its dairy products from UK suppliers,” a spokesman for the retailer said told The Grocer.
“We are committed to ensuring that both our suppliers and our customers get the best deal possible.
“As we have consistently made clear, Iceland has derived no benefit whatsoever from the recent cut in milk prices paid by its processors and we were happy to agree to meet a representative from Farmers for Action to demonstrate that this is indeed the case.”
Farmers have protested against two rounds of milk price cuts announced by processors in recent weeks. Since the protests started, all the major supermarket chains have either reiterated or upped the premiums they pay milk farmers, with discounters Aldi and Lidl also committing to a 2p per litre increase.
Farmers want more retailers – including Iceland and Farmfoods, as well as smaller, middle-ground retailers and the foodservice industry – to commit to ensuring they pay farmers a fair, sustainable price for their milk.
In addition to protests at Iceland’s DC in Warrington last night, farmers were also protesting at Farmfoods in Solihull.
Last week, all the major processors agreed to cancel or put on hold milk price cuts originally planned for 1 August. But dairy farmers say their campaign is far from over.
NFU chief dairy adviser Rob Newbery said the milk price campaign “coalition” – including the NFU, Farmers for Action and the Women’s Institute – was would meet shortly to discuss next steps in the campaign, with the formation of producer organisations a key focus.
“We are also continuing our dialogue with retailers and processors about how to improve the long-term sustainability of the sector,” he said.
“We’ve written letters thanking them for their recent support, but we’re making it very clear we don’t want them to rob Peter to pay Paul. We wouldn’t want to end up with lots of cheap imported Cheddar coming in to make up for higher milk prices.
“We will be asking all milk buyers – do you have a sustainable dairy strategy?”
Farmers for Action said phase two of the campaign would be about recovering farmgate milk price cuts made in April, May and June.
“We intend, along with our partners, to flush out the money that has obviously gone in to someone else’s bank account and we will use every available avenue to achieve this by the deadline of 1 September,” the group said on a statement on its Facebook page.
“This will involve going back over old ground, so the big four retailers and three largest processors needn’t think they are all off the hook. They need to come clean very quickly and explain where the money from the cuts went and what it was used for. If they have any morals or ethics this should come easily; if not, someone’s backside will get kicked and hard.”
The FFA added the same applied to middle-ground retailers, discounters and the foodservice industry, with the government also needing to accept it had a responsibility to dairy farmers.
“You have all recently made statements regarding what you intend to do; we will hold you all to that.”