Dairy farmer

Like Minette Batters, I lit up when I saw the headline about Tesco chairman John Allan accusing suppliers of profiteering.

As a farmer, I can categorically state I am in no way profiteering from the rising food costs. I’ve never peddled so hard to stay still. I cannot speak for the rest of the food chain. But I know for a fact we’ve had very little influence on price for any of our goods, ever. In fact, if the UK wants food security that will have to change. Farming businesses have changed dramatically over the last decades and I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s for the better.

I watched with interest last year as Tesco took on Heinz, and had a wry smile on my face as I saw Tesco portraying itself as the “defender of the consumer’s pocket”.

Having been involved in growing vegetables for many supermarkets over the years, there has been nothing more cut-throat than a supermarket buyer. They’d drop you like a hot stone and find every conceivable way of wriggling out of a contract if they could. They have suppliers in one pocket and customers in the other.

In my opinion the tide turned last year, and for the first time food manufacturers had the chance to put the multiples under a bit of pressure, because everyone needed an increase. So the retailers had nowhere to turn. It was a question of who asked for the smallest increase, and they might become flavour of the week. Which then left the Tescos of this world with a conundrum: do they pass the full price increase on, part of an increase on, or absorb it and let it eat into their margin?

As usual, in most cases they just pass on the increase and deflect the blame. Ken Murphy’s comment about being in a constant battle with suppliers to keep prices down is not news to anyone that’s involved in food production or manufacturing – it’s been a supermarket’s remit since time began, to drive down the supplier and squeeze them until they’re nearly dry. But just leave them with enough oxygen to get by.

To me this is nothing more than an attempt by Tesco to get consumers on their side, and try and get them to vote with their choices. It’s pitting food companies against each other and trying to disrupt an already fragmented food chain, where good people are working their backsides off to keep businesses going, with depleted staff numbers and huge problems still ongoing due to the effects of Brexit, covid and the Ukraine war.

Maybe the question shouldn’t be why is food so expensive now, but instead, why has it been so cheap?

Is it morally right that a 500ml bottle of Coke, which has no health benefits at all, can be circa £1.80 and an increase is not questioned, yet milk is highlighted as having taken a massive jump, when four pints can be bought for £1.65? Who do you think pockets the difference? It’s certainly not the dairy farmer, that’s for sure!

With John Allan’s impending retirement, it makes zero difference to him what he says. He can light as many fires as he wants, because he knows he won’t have to deal with the aftermath, a typical ‘I’m alright Jack’ mentality.

But who am I to comment? I am but a mere minion in the lower echelons of the food chain. A lot of these supermarket mouthpieces should try spending a week on the farm, or in a factory, or in raw materials procurement or production planning. They’d get their eyes opened and maybe think before they speak.

I’ve always lived by the mantra that you’ve two eyes and two ears and only one mouth, for a reason!