Morrisons has been criticised by British fruit and veg growers for switching its fresh produce business to a broker instead of dealing directly with suppliers.
Growers have accused the retailer of taking a step back and questioned its commitment to developing the provenance of its fresh food, claiming brokers were not compatible with high-quality produce or long-term supplier relationships.
"Morrisons has appointed a broker and we're disappointed by its decision - it used to be one of the better ones," said Tim Mudge, commercial director at the Processed Vegetable Growers' Association. "Brokers have virtually disappeared in the past 15 years and I don't know why they're coming back. By using a broker, you're putting an extra link in the chain and adding cost."
Brokers habitually sourced the cheapest produce in order to justify their own margins, said another industry source. "They try to get the best price, not necessarily the best quality, which raises questions about food miles and how the product has been grown," he said.
The move could also dilute the power of the provenance message Morrisons is planning to develop for its fresh food. It wants to draw attention to the fact that most of its produce is processed and packed in its own factories.
Chief executive Marc Bolland said Morrisons hoped to launch a provenance campaign in 2008.
He admitted the supermarket had switched some business to a broker when questioned at a conference hosted by English Farming and Food Partnerships, but appealed for understanding from growers. "You can't do everything at the same time. We've made a strong statement on pork and lamb and it's now up to others to do something, too," said Bolland, referring to his pledge to sell only fresh British pork and lamb.