Waitrose QBA animal welfare app

Source: Waitrose

Initiatives such as our new animal welfare assessment app would be virtually impossible without genuine collaboration with our farmers

The past two years have been about more than a pandemic and its repercussions. With the COP26 climate summit, increasingly unusual and violent weather events, widespread calls to overhaul our global food system and the biggest changes to farming policy in this country for 50 years, the need for all of us to change the way we think and act in our businesses and at home has been brought into sharp focus.

These are enormous and exceptionally complex challenges, but all major grocery businesses acknowledge we can be significant forces for change if we work together to influence the supply chains we all depend on.

Waitrose is very lucky in some respects to be a partnership and have the luxury of being able to take long-term, values-based decisions without the scrutiny of markets and shareholders. But customers will increasingly hold all supermarkets to account and vote with their wallets and purses, and we should embrace the impetus that will provide.

The world faces so many challenges right now but I am an optimist. Despite the usual unforgiving competitive pressures at play, I believe there is a critical mass of consensus in the trade that fundamental change is required. To achieve that, we’ll need to think and act collectively.

We at Waitrose will continue to innovate and push the boundaries. We strive to set good examples and take leading positions where we think it’s most important. We have, for example, publicly expressed our concern about the impact of post-Brexit trade deals on UK agriculture, which will affect the sector’s ability to improve its environmental performance. And our concern for ensuring we have the right national policies in play has driven our support of Henry Dimbleby and his groundbreaking National Food Strategy work.

Last week we held our annual Farming Conference and I was pleased to be able to thank our farmers personally for their efforts throughout the pandemic and in the face of enormous change to the way they work. Our long-standing relationships mean we’re able to collaborate more effectively and work towards the ambitious shared goals in our 10-year Agriculture Plan. From initiatives such as our award-winning new animal welfare assessment app developed in conjunction with our livestock farmers, to our work with FareShare to divert good-to-eat food surplus straight from our farms to vulnerable families in need, progress is virtually impossible without genuine collaboration.

Solving the most complex challenges requires innovative and disruptive thinking. More and more talent across the industry is being drawn to the puzzle of how to evolve towards a sustainable food system. That talent needs to be embraced but alone in a sustainability team it won’t be able to get the traction required to overcome the operational, commercial, financial and practical hurdles. Lasting solutions will require experience and passion from across the many disciplines of food retail and from every link in the food chain, especially from farmers.

We’ve done a lot in the past quarter century and it’s no coincidence that we have worked with many of our farmers just as long  –  and in some cases much, much longer. Everything we have achieved has been in collaboration with them. It may seem obvious but it bears repeating regularly that any proposed solutions to a lasting sustainable food system have to be rooted in and owned by farmers.

Recognising that, we’ve taken the decision to invest significantly in our own farm on the Leckford Estate in Hampshire to create an innovation hub for regenerative agriculture. We will share the learnings from Leckford with our UK farmer network to ensure we meet our net zero ambitions by 2035 and we will make any findings available to the wider agriculture sector to support anyone and everyone we can on this journey. We welcome any or all forms of collaboration to solve this shared problem.

By working together, we can create a profitable, competitive and resilient farming sector as the bedrock of a sustainable food system.