2006 has been good for farmers, claims Tesco

This year has definitely been a better one for farmers, a senior Tesco buyer told members of the St Merryn Producers Club at their annual Christmas Show in Methyr Tydfil.

Chris Ling said 2006 had been a big improvement on previous years with the prospect of more improvement to come.

Although Tesco has outperformed the retail market on beef sales, the overall market is beginning to show signs of volume decline however, he warned. Higher prices might not be sustainable with other competitively priced foods available.

Ling, who judged the show, said he was encouraged to see organic carcases on display. "It's a small but growing area of our business," he said. "We shouldn't discount it as a market." Tesco's organic beef sales now account for 3% of sales, up from just 1% five years ago. "If we could get organic stock it would be 5% but there isn't the supply." Organic beef could be sold in 400 of Tesco's 700 stores but there is not enough to supply even 200 stores, he said.

Tesco's premium Finest meat range has grown to 12% of sales this year from 8% last year, he said. The supermarket group wants to see the sector grow to 18% or 20% of sales.

He went on to endorse St Merryn's professionalism despite rumours of troubles for it and its parent group, Grampian. "St Merryn is our biggest beef and lamb supplier and I do not see that changing, certainly not in the short to medium term," he said. Technically the company is very good and the service given to Tesco is excellent, he said. "All the rumours about St Merryn being in trouble - not with Tesco they're not."

This was St Merryn's fifth Christmas Show at Merthyr Tydfil, this year sponsored by HCC, and it continues to develop the quality of carcases both locally and nationally, director John Dracup said. "It's vital that we have shows like this to identify our key producers and recognise some of the work which goes into raising stock."

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