Sir; The Conservative Quality of Life Policy Group has laid out some of the major retail challenges in its Blueprint for a Green Economy, which calls for the government to maintain and improve the needs test. This is in contrast to Planning White Paper proposals that effectively do away with this vital check on unsustainable retail expansion. This is a welcome recognition of the need to protect the vitality of our high streets and provide a genuinely diverse market.
The group also calls for a stronger Supermarkets Code of Practice - a call shared by such diverse groups as Friends of the Earth, ActionAid, GMB and The Brands Group. There is, however, a glaring omission. It has dropped our demand for a vitally needed independent regulator to ensure the code is adhered to and that emerging issues in supply chains are promptly addressed and dealt with.
As these are not yet Tory policies, we now need the Conservatives to take up and strengthen these recommendations to the Competition Commission and put strong opposition pressure on the government to set the Planning White Paper in the right direction.
George's flippancy mortifying to debtors Jonathan Choat Chairman, Nexus Communications
Sir; I am surprised by the publicity you have devoted to the views of the President of the National Barbeque Association, Brian George, that his going into liquidation is somehow the result of being left with no money and that he intends to carry on with the same promotion next year ('BBQ boss: we will keep campaigning', The Grocer, 15 September, p9).
Such flippancy is intensely mortifying for his numerous debtors, to whom he owes more than £500,000, many of which are small companies or individuals now in financial difficulty through their association with him. The liquidator is now establishing if there are any discrepancies between income from sponsors and expenditure on the promised 'campaign', but how can anyone in the marketing business, let alone food and drink companies he intends to target as sponsors for his schemes, invest their time and money in an organisation that, through liquidation is now avoiding debts?
Outsourcing gives a competitive edge Peter Butler MD, SHS Sales & Marketing (GB)
Sir; The outlook for outsourcing has never looked brighter. Del Monte saying 'yes' to Jenks is yet another example of big brands looking to sales and marketing agencies to add value to their business ('Man from Del Monte he say 'yes' to Jenks', The Grocer, 15 September, p27).
Richard Onion, chief executive of the European Sales & Marketing Association, is right to say that previously, brand owners would use brokerage to establish a business and then take the sales function in house when growth was achieved.
But the landscape has changed. Sales and marketing agencies offer far more than just a one-size-fits-all sales solution. And increasingly, we are seeing established brands looking to outsourcing for the competitive edge. For example, when Big Bear acquired the Sugar Puffs brand last year, it already had household recognition, but needed to expand its visibility across the trade. By outsourcing sales, logistics and backroom function to us, it could concentrate on other areas of its business. Twelve months on, and the partnership has brought significant rewards, with sales and distribution increased across the board.
I expect Del Monte to be just one of many big brands that will switch to outsourcing for tangible - and lasting - benefits.
Pasta suppliers hit by wheat hikes Nigel Singh UK sales manager, Pasta Lensi
Sir; I was very impressed with The Grocer's article on rising wheat prices ('In the eye of the storm, The Grocer, 21 July, p30). It provides a clear, concise and factual reflection of what is happening in the wheat market. As Pasta Lensi is a leading supplier of pasta into the UK, your article has been very helpful in explaining to my customers the position we are in.
The sharp increase has come as a surprise to many pasta manufacturers. Following last year's hike in durum wheat we had hoped for some relief because we had not been able to pass this increase on. The price of durum wheat in Italy now stands nearly 70% higher than it did in June. Manufacturers must pass this increase down the line to survive.
The coverage of increasing bread prices in the papers has helped get the message home. The price of dried pasta on retail shelves has moved up from 31p to 45p for a 500g pack of dried spaghetti, as indicated in The Grocer. This is not the end of the crisis and we will wait to see if supply can meet demand.
Lack of skills affects the whole industry Scott Hutchinson MD, Hutchinson Consultancy
Sir; Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco, should be congratulated on his recent plea to the government to improve the skills of school leavers ( www.thegrocer.co.uk, 12 September). The lack of skills in the basic three Rs is leading to a major problem for a fourth R - recruitment.
It is not just Tesco that is being forced to offer on-the-job training for poorly qualified staff - the lack of skill is impacting on food companies across the country. While the demand for managers in the food industry is increasing, there is a worrying drop in the number of UK students training in relevant food science degree courses. It is time to bridge the skills gap at every level.