The merits of cooperation

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Steve Parfett

Competition in the grocery trade is notoriously fierce, and rightly so - the rules are strict, penalties for breaches are severe, and everyone I know takes them very seriously. However this does not and should not preclude a spirit of cooperation in non-competitive areas.

A fine example is The Grocer Gold Awards, presented last month at The Guildhall in London. Trade associations are even more valuable. In wholesale both FWD and ACS are ultra-careful not to contravene competition law but work extremely hard with their membership to represent their members on legislative, research and public profile. Publications like ACS’s Local Shop Report and FWD’s Whole Story conference give members access to ever more essential data and provide a mechanism to demonstrate to both press and government the value our industry represents to the economy.

Education is equally important and IGD is a fantastic resource for students of our industry.

The ability to benchmark against competitors is also valuable and especially so if done in a forum seen as genuinely impartial and where most of the industry participate. Him’s Wholesale Awards and CTP awards in convenience are widely respected.

Professor Chris Elliott pointed out on these pages recently the waste involved in food manufacturers having to go through multiple audits rather than having a cooperative system.

Disappointingly, even areas where there is a real and established benefit for consumers and producers in cooperation are now subject to short-term whims of big business, the most recent example the withdrawal by Sainsbury’s from the excellent Fairtrade scheme.

Valuing people who have contributed to our industry is always important. The coming together of Caravan and Sweet Charity has been a welcome concentration of resource to provide help to anyone in need, whether they have worked in wholesale, retail or manufacturing.

Finally, I wanted to acknowledge the slightly different approach of the Advantage Mirror programme, which simultaneously surveys suppliers about their views of wholesalers and wholesalers about suppliers. The survey ranks participants each year as well as providing non-attributable comments on each participating company’s performance. I am delighted that my team has been recognised in this year’s report as the number one wholesaler.

All these things require recognition that there is merit in cooperation and value in the outputs achieved. They are a rewarding and valuable addition to our intense efforts to compete with each other.

Steve Parfett is chairman of AG Parfett & Sons


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