Co-op commits to British meat

As of today (Tuesday 2 May) The Co-operative will commit to sourcing only 100% fresh British bacon and lamb, ditching Danish bacon and New Zealand lamb.

According to research conducted by the retailer, meat imports into the UK have doubled over the past two decades, increasing from £3 billion (bn) in 1996 to £6.2bn. It claimed that almost a tenth of all meat imports into the UK enter from Denmark, importing £550m a year, with £291m of New Zealand lamb imports being sent to the UK a year. Over £5bn-worth of meat is shipped from the European Union member states, with Asia and Oceania accounting for £804 million (m) worth of imports, and Latin America £345m.

Exports from Asia and Oceania have almost trebled from £304m in 1996, with the biggest contributors being Thailand and New Zealand, at £423m and £291m respectively. Ireland sends the most meat to the UK of the member states, shipping £1.45bn.

The supermarket chain is now calling for more retailers to follow in its footsteps. “British consumers will be shocked to see how meat imports have grown, while at the same time retailers hang out the bunting and claim to back British farmers,” said Jo Whitfield, retail chief executive at The Co-op.

“Only The Co-op offers 100% British fresh meat all year round – and not just in the meat cabinet, but also in our sandwiches, our pies and our ready meals. We can do this because we’re owned by members, not shareholders, and can invest long-term in what matters to communities, not what provides the fastest shareholder return. I call on other retailers and food providers to do more to help our farmers, particularly as they head towards uncertain times.”

The Co-operative already sells only British beef, chicken, ham, pork, sausages, duck and turkey, with British meat being used in its own-label chilled ready meals, pies and sandwiches. This week, the retailer is launching a £10m campaign, highlighting the benefits of sourcing from British local farms, with full-page print adverts featuring in national newspapers and TV campaigns lined up for later in the year.

Industry support

“Around half of the pork consumed in the UK is imported,” commented Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association (NPA). “Fluctuating currency markets and imports, which are cheaper because of lower welfare standards, can significantly impact the cost of home-produced pork, making it harder for farmers to make a living.

“We call on more retailers and food providers to back British and either source more UK pork or follow The Co-op’s lead and go 100% British.”

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) vice-president Guy Smith said this “bold” move put farming at the forefront of The Co-op’s business. “Shoppers tell us time and again that they want to see more British food on supermarket shelves,” he said. “With the latest consumer trends showing an increase in convenient meals, The Co-op has generated an opportunity for the British sheep industry by extending its commitment further than fresh meat, into pies, ready  meals and sandwiches.”

Charles Sercombe, NFU livestock board chairman, extended his congratulations to The Co-op for its commitment, and asked for other supermarkets to follow its lead. “As a first step, retailers need to state when they wish to source British lamb, but we would also like to see retailers work with British producers to extend their British season for fresh lamb and help utilise all cuts of meat by using British lamb in their ready-to-eat and ready-meal lines,” he explained.
“We know that lamb consumption has been under pressure and I firmly believe that The Co-op, with its growing share of the UK convenience retail market, is ideally placed to offer shoppers a tasty alternative in mid-week meals.”

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