lidl fruit and veg

Lidl became the second UK supermarket to sign up to the NFU’s fruit and veg pledge today. Slow progress, considering the pledge was launched in 2012. Is there something wrong with it? 

No, is the short answer. If you were a supermarket buyer in the 1990s then look away now, but essentially the pledge boils down to treating suppliers with respect. Paying them on time, that sort of thing. You can read the full pledge here. Retailers, do write us a letter if any of it seems unreasonable.

The first supermarket to sign up was Aldi (it did so just over a year ago). And in this post-Tacon age of grocery glasnost, you have to wonder what is stopping the rest from doing the same.

One reason is size. Dave Lewis may be selling everything that isn’t nailed down at Tesco but it remains about six times bigger than Lidl. Even if you just focus on Tesco’s fresh supply chain, everything from the number of suppliers to the myriad management strata means any new commitments are harder to sign off, introduce and monitor. 

Besides, Tesco would argue it has its own checks in place (nowadays) to make sure its buyers are not abusing suppliers. It’s also under the beady eye of the GCA, Christine Tacon, who has already marked Tesco’s card. The supermarket is unlikely to step out of line in a hurry. So why should it voluntarily sign up to another code of practice drawn up by a supplier when it already has its own, and the GSCOP, to follow?

The simple answer is because it doesn’t look good not to. The same goes for Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons. No one sullied the supermarkets’ reputation when it came to their treatment of fresh suppliers. They did that all by themselves. Signing up, even just to show willing, is long overdue, especially when it’s likely the worst they can expect for erroneously breaching any of the clauses is a polite phone call from the NFU asking if they wouldn’t mind putting it right. 

Aldi and Lidl’s approach is smarter. Both are gaining a reputation for treating them fairly, not least by remaining in steady, long-term agreements with them. But when it comes to positive publicity, both discounters are adept at winning praise for doing something they should already be doing, like introducing healthy checkouts, or paying the living wage. And signing up to the NFU pledge isn’t just what they should be doing, it also reiterates their support of British products, which reinforces their attempts to be seen as British supermarkets, which in turn makes them more appealing to British shoppers, which generates sales.

Whereas when it comes to positive publicity, the big four struggle. It’s clear they are treating their suppliers better than they used to. It’s only confusing why they don’t take advantage of an easy win to shout about it.