Thursday, February 04, 2010

Is the new supermarket code of practice whitewash?

The Supermarket Code of Practice comes in force today

Peter Kendall's performance on this morning's Today on Radio 4  was politically correct - but did he get to the real issue?  Farmers have become used to the measured tone of their President, but I'm not sure he cuts much ice with the public. This morning he totally left me, and I think, many others when talked about a "rotten time before Christmas, the frost has made life very difficult for us, we've lost money, we need you to help us make up the shortfall...". It was only on the third replay I realised that he was quoting the excuses buyers were making to reduce the price they were paying producers. People are used to hear farmers moaning about frost and losing money - not supermarkets! 
Applauding the new Code, Kendall said "We've moved back to proper commercial practices...". We need to wait and see. He failed to mention that many farmers and growers deal with co-ops, packers, and wholesalers. They are the ones who negotiate.  Are these small businesses really in a position to take their complaints to arbitration? It's very doubtful. They can't jeopardise a major customer, but the supermarket is quite able to cut them out of their plans.  If their Tesco buyer says the March price for potatoes will be down 10%, there's a 99% liklihood they simply pass the pain on the the man in the field. It's in nobody's interests to do otherrwise.

Representing the supermarkets, Andrew Opie was in complete denial about the need for the Code or any changes to the present system which he saw as completely satisfactory. He welcomed the new Code. "The really important thing about today, a really significant day, is that it will actually dispel lots of these myths and allegations that we hear around the supply chain. This is a really key moment, as it was drawn up by the Competition Commission after their own investigation into the grocery chain..."
Why should he be so bullish? Is he saying 'we're happy because we know the Code is going to have very limited effects, but will provide a valuable and effective smokescreen for the major buyers to continue much as before. Does he see the Code putting a lid on the issue of buyers' practices for the next decade?
There's a huge gap between the way supermarkets work and how the rest of us behave. I've reported it in some detail in Practical Farm Ideas (Vol 18, issue 4).
The article is headed 'Supermarket trading practices are 'big boys game' '.  It shows that buyers can be like the dealer who wants to buy your tractor. You ask £7,000. He takes a cursory look and says he'll take it for £5,500, lets you argue the toss, and you reluctantly agree £6,250. But he's not going to pay you this amount, (he never pays cash on the nail). He'll find undisclosed faults, either before but preferably after delivery, he'll tell you the value has dropped so will be revising his offer, he'll ask for money on account. The game for this buyer is to get the tractor for nothing, not pay you a fair price, a market price or even a trade price. The tractor dealer works from instinct, supermarket buyers are trained. The Practical Farm Ideas article is worth reading. It's the only mainstream farming magazine independent of the supply trade (all editorial, it carries no advertising)  from
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