When Tony Blair famously said that UK supermarkets had farmers in an armlock three years ago little did he expect a major European study to prove the exact opposite. Especially one officially commissioned by Defra - and not by an industry body.
No wonder, then, that there appears no rush by the government to release the findings. Indeed, it is hard enough to track the study down, being hidden as it is in the depths of the Defra website and with a title that’s hardly designed to excite you to boot.
But persevere with Investigation of the Determinants of Farm-Retail Price Spreads and there are some revelations that many farmers, and indeed other suppliers, will find astonishing.
Fact: Supermarkets are not using their buying power to profiteer
Fact: In all but two cases, the gap between farmgate prices and retail prices is among the lowest of EU member states
Fact: The UK food market comes third from bottom in the EU when it comes to concentration of power in the hands of the top five retailers
Granted, the report measures the ‘spread’ - in other words the gap between prices - and is not a statement on whether the prices paid to UK farmers are fair. But its findings go a long way to proving what UK supermarkets have long argued - that it is their customers, not themselves, that benefit when farmgate prices fall.
Another retailer on our Top 50 Independents list has been sold. I’m beginning to sound like a stuck record, for seven have been bought since we published this year’s ranking (February 14). This time it’s Scottish operator Morning Noon & Night, which Scotmid has picked up for £30m. But while the MN& N brand may disappear from the shirts of his beloved Dundee United, founder Eddie Thompson says he has no plans to disappear and will continue to speak out. In a sector where it is increasingly difficult to voice an opinion for fear of upsetting the powers that be, all I can say is ‘Thank goodness’.
defra proves blair wrong