Tarry praised the industry’s performance during the pandemic

Tesco’s UK boss urged the grocery industry to work together to combat the cost of living crisis in a speech yesterday.

Speaking to the IGD conference, Tesco CEO UK & ROI Jason Tarry said to attendees: “If we were one business, imagine what we could do.”

His comments struck a co-operative note after Tesco has been subject to criticism over high-profile spats between the buisness and its suppliers over prices and fees.

Tarry praised the industry’s performance during the pandemic, where retailers and suppliers worked together. “We did some amazing work during the pandemic with a single focus,” he said.

Tarry pointed to the “brilliant work” the industry had done over the past few years in “building trust in our food supply chain”.

Now the cost of living crisis posed the next big challenge to the food industry. “The things that keep me awake at night are the cost of living and the cost of doing business.”

Food inflation remains at a record high of 19.1%, according to government figures, and food bank charities are reporting record demand.

For Tarry, the solution to the crisis is greater co-operation across the grocery industry: “I think there’s a massive opportunity for us to step forward on this together.”

Just like during the pandemic, “we’re all focusing on the same thing”, he said.

The UK Tesco boss raised the question: “What if we went in with a mindset that said together we were one business rather than two or three – what could we achieve?”

He did not give more details on what such co-operation might look like in practice.

Kris Comerford, chief commercial officer of food at Asda, echoed the sense that the industry had to take ownership earlier in the conference, remarking that the cost of living crisis “puts a reposibility on us as a sector”.

Tesco has faced a series of criticisms over its relationship with suppliers in recent months. In March, Tesco was criticised for plans to make suppliers pay a new charge when selling products online.

In January, Tesco chairman John Allan faced backlash from suppliers after he said it was “entirely possible” that food producers were using inflation as an excuse to make unnecessary price increases.