Monday, August 27, 2007

Supporting British Farmers? Waitrose is 'avin a Giraffe!

Have you seen that new Waitrose advert? The one that has Love me Tender as the theme and ends with the caption "Supporting British Farmers", as Elvis sings "And I always will". As Mr Royal might say, 'supporting British farmers, my arse'. I'm surprised it made it through the Advertising Standards Authority checks for accuracy. For one moment I thought it said 'extorting British farmers'. For most supermarkets that would be a far more accurate slogan, and I doubt whether Waitrose is any different to the others.

Anyone interested in the way supermarkets blackmail British farmers should read the final chapter of John Nott's memoirs, HERE TODAY GONE TOMORROW. It is a real eye opener.

See also Vicky Ford.

UPDATE: I'm amazed at the comments on this thread and the number of people who attribute views to me I just do not have. Of course I believe in free markets. But the big supermarkets do not operate in a free market. They use their huge power to subvert the free market of supply. In other words they use their might to blackmail small suppliers. Waitrose, for all I know, may have a better record than the others, but if they do, they should detail it on their website. I have just spent ten minutes on their website and nowhere is there any detail about how they have "supported the British farmer through good times and bad". That says it all. It's a glossy ad behind which there is not a lot of substance.

45 comments:

Simple Tory said...

Iain,
Check out Vicky Ford's post yesterday - "Putting food on our plates".
ST

Laurence Boyce said...

Are Waitrose doing anything illegal? If not, then it’s the free market at work.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry. But I'm fed up listening to farmers and their apologists telling us how awful it is as though the world owes them a living.

Civilisation is founded, quite literally, on the falling price of food. This has been a market that has been moving one direction for 6000 years and counting - it is about time farmers got the message.

As for the accusation that farmers keep the countryside the way we want it - (a) they don't and (b) if we are going to pay people to manage the landscape then we should pick the best people, not just those who happen, through chance, to own the land.

I know many tenant farmers have it hard. But then, so did coal miners and I didn't notice much bleating from the Tory party back then.

Those who own the land have a simple choice - sell their land (land values have risen dramatically in the last decade) or shut up.

And yes, long live supermarket power to drive down prices.

Anonymous said...

I think it was Jim Royle.

Ed said...

If the supermarkets aren't contravening the competition laws then why should they pay more to farmers than they need to? Isn't it the farmers' prerogative to try and get the highest price possible and the supermarkets' prerogative to try and get the lowest price. Isn't that the essence of a free market? If either party has broken the law then they should be prosecuted - do you have any evidence Iain??

If farmers want to increase their profits they need to be more productive and efficient - just like in any other industry.

If you think there's a case for interference in the market on food security or land stewardship grounds, why not make it instead of shouting at the supermarkets?

Anonymous said...

That's a weird advert. The job of Waitrose is to support their shoppers, not farmers. I suppose it's an attempt to court 'organic' eating middle classes.

CityUnslicker said...

My hunch would be that John Lewis is more committed than other supermarkets to its green agenda.

Firstly, it actually has the customer basew who is willing to pay ythe extra, so it can make it aselling point.

Secondly, it wownership strucute, such as having all staff as shareholders, makes it more likely to be socially responsible in the UK.

Machiavelli's Understudy said...

Are they not buying produce from British farmers? If they are buying produce from British farmers, then I can't see the problem.

If farmers don't want Waitrose's money, they aren't compelled to accept it.

There may be farmers who feel they aren't getting what they used to, but there are consumers, like me, who feel we'd like to pay as little as possible for our basics. If I want to give my money away, I'll go to a charity.

The market adapts- it seems farmers just aren't willing to do so, which is fair enough- they're entitled to stay as they are- but they shouldn't complain when they get left behind. It happened to the textile Luddites in the 19th Century, and it's happening with farmers- they'll get the message, eventually.

As a compromise, I'd be content to see some sort of help for farmers and agricultural communities to adapt, retrain and innovate.

Anonymous said...

Waitrose actually tends to have a better relationship with farmers than the larger supermarkets.......

Anonymous said...

The way this blog is going, and judging by the increasing media tarting from Dale, it is only a matter of time before he joins Rick Wakeman, Arthur Smith et al on that 'Grumpy Old Men' show..

wonderfulforhisage said...

There can be times when it's a mite dangerous to allow the 'free market' a free rein. Thinks......"I can hardly believe I've just typed that".

Before the war, (my war, not Bliar's) there was a 'free market' in land which led to what was known at the time as 'ribbon development' (dreadful bungalows full of old people) stretching along the coast line anywhere within reasonable distance of a railway station. Partly as a result of this and other 'developments', planning regulations were introduced which grossly distorted the 'free market'. And thank goodness for that say I.

The real N in the WP is the Common Agricultural Policy. The French have managed to protect their rural heritage largely at the expense of the rest of Europe. We've learned to cook a bit better in the last fifty years by taking a leaf from their book. Maybe we've something to learn from their treatment of their country side and farmers.

wonkotsane said...

"British" farmers? Are "British" farmers in Waitrose the same "British" farmers in Tesco? Anything in Tesco with a British flag means it's English, is Waitrose any different?

Bob Piper said...

h... Tescos... brings back memories of that Tory paragon of virtue the fragrant Dame Shirley Porter... now she knew how to help people, farmers or not.

strapworld said...

Iain,

Sorry I cannot see anything wrong with the advertisement.

I lived between two farms for two years. Both dairy farms. I have never known such dedicated, hard working people. Every day taking their cattle to the fields and returning to milk them etc. etc.

They told me how little they got for the milk, they told me how little they got when they sold cattle on. BUT they would not change their life for anything.

The problem with farming is not the supermarkets it is the EU. and Iain you know that is so!

When the EU get their way, as they will because all the parties are conspiring against the UK people! Farming will soon be dealt with on the Continet of europe, probably the Ukraine which was, before the 1st World War the breadbasket of Europe.

Waitrose are doing nothing wrong.

Chris Paul said...

Agree with Lawrence. This is the market. If you don't like it you are in the wrong party. Farmers must pay their workers' properly and stop exploiting them and themselves, combine in co-operatives and selling boards, create premium brands and USPs, do farmers markets etc.

Big shops are - believe it or not - better in all kinds of ways for working people. All the Tescopoly stuff and this whining is coming from disappointed capitalists and middle class idiots.

Er, discuss.

Definitely Royle. "Tories complain about market forces? My arse."

John Lewis Partnership do not sell food in their shops where I am. Not relevant. But ASDA (RIP) and Co-op Societies (potential to thrive there) are based on similar Co-op principles.

Alan Douglas said...

Iain,

I don't think it would be hard to find that Waitrose are indeed much superior in their treatment of their suppliers. They clearly treat their staff better.

We were lucky enough to have our once-Safeway turned Morrisons bought over by Waitrose, and many of the staff I knew long-term were delighted with the change - many were in the process of leaving under the Northern Cosh, and the quality was dreadful.

I do think a little research on your part is called for, then perhaps even an apology ?

Alan Douglas

Wrinkled Weasel said...

All you terrible people who think that the market rules, - remember that as British Farmers go out of business and change over to running theme parks and camp sites and wind farms, your milk and your eggs and your sausages are going to be processed by an arse-wiping peasant with hep-C, somewhere in Kazakhstan.

In fact, the arse-wiping peasants, who don't find a ready supply of lavvy paper in the lettuce fields where they work all day, are now being employed over here in places like Boston, Lincolnshire, where they totally fail to integrate or pay taxes.

Furthermore, your trimmed dwarf beans are being flown in from the Gambia, on an airplane. An AIR plane for God's sake!.

You are not getting more choice at the supermarkets, you are getting less. You are getting cheap chicken that is grown in conditions worse than the lettuce, which at least has fresh air, a vegetable, in 12 inches of its own shit, unable to walk, unable to do much but grown at an artificially speeded up rate, and then die.

If you think that the supermarkets are not responsible for all of this you are in cuckoo land.

free market balls. You will end up with more Bernard Matthews disasters, and like BM you, the consumer and tax payer will pay.

Take your choices tory boys.

Hughes Views said...

Poor old Iain, poor old Tories - they just don't understand markets.

mens sana said...

You can't put all farmers in one category any more than all shops. I agree with the general principle that agriculture is a business and should not in principle be treated differently to any other

BUT

We need food security-it is vital that we maintain the resources to feed ourselves-so allowing farms to go over wholesale to adventure parks is a bad thing. This, like energy supply, is ultimately a matter of national security, which many governments seem to forget

Furthermore, monopolies are not generally good for the consumer. By reducing farmers' margins they will be (are being)forced to agglomerate into larger businesses. On one level this is good-cheaper food. Also good for Chris Paul who no doubt imagines bands of tenant farmers getting together in a solid proletarian co-operative to squeeze the rich consumers out of their ill-gotten wealth (conveniently forgetting that what actually happens is the rich landowners get richer and own more land and the poor small farmers are forced off the land to work for the supermakets) . On the other hand we lose diversity of supply and this is bad for the consumer (at least the middle class organic junkies like me who can afford to pay more for food than the £2 chicken in ASDA)

Finally our farmers are not competing on a level playing field with the rest of the world (see comments by many above). Therefore we need to fight hard for them in the international arena to ensure that they can compete on level terms. The Americans are aggressive about doing this (remember those bananas), so should we be

So how should the government proceed?-Enforce competition law properly; Fight hard and robustly for our farmers in trade negotiations; Encourage responsible farming and good practice by the use of stewardship schemes. Maybe provide tax breaks on locally produced food.

BUT if the supermarkets aren't breaking the law there's no point in having a go at them-it's called business, and if they acted differently they would be letting down their customers and their shareholders.

Anonymous said...

We here so much about Carbon Foot prints, and at the same time as are Dairy Farms are being forced out of Business we are importing Milk! across Europe from Poland.
All they seem to do in Brussels is make Rules! (Orders that have to be obeyed ) as to who is allowed to produce what and where.
And People blame Thatcher for the loss of are Mining and Steel Industries.

Anonymous said...

I was in Waitrose yesterday, the amount of glossy marketing is unbelievable.

A simple pack of diced pineapple, was

"Sugarloaf Pineapple"

"The Sindwe tribe of Senegal watchfully tend their small plots of sugarloaf pineapple to ensure their sumptuous sweetness..." [etc.]

It's all OTT, food porn, but what the truth is behind it, who knows.

Andrew Boff said...

REAL free market zealots believe in only three things: the defence of the realm; the upholding of the rule of law and the breaking of monopolies and cartels.
The belief that the “free market” is an economic regime without rules and without any state intervention is the sort of facile interpretation that New Labour has of the mechanism.
It should NOT be an unregulated free for all where the big boys can use their muscle to force down the prices that they pay. The free market depends on intervention to remain free and to ensure that there are a large number of competitors.
Planning authorities, having virtually no powers to regulate them, have been forced into allowing the large supermarkets to dominate our high streets, reducing the choice of outlets and therefore the number of purchasers for farmer's products.
The free market in retail is in danger of coming to a halt and being replaced by corporate managerialism which exists not to innovate but to stifle competition and intimidate suppliers.
At the risk of sounding like Chauncey Gardiner, the free market is a beautiful thing, and like all beautiful things, needs care, attention and the occasional pruning.

David Lindsay said...

Things like this are exactly why I DON'T believe in a "free" market. Why do you believe in such a thing?

Instead, I believe in the conservation or restoration of such good things as national self-government (the only basis for international co-operation, and including the United Kingdom as greater than the sum of its parts), local variation, historical consciousness, family life, the whole Biblical and Classical patrimony of the West, agriculture, manufacturing, small business, close-knit communities, law and order, civil liberties, academic standards, all forms of art, mass political participation within a constitutional framework, and respect for the absolute sanctity of each individual human life from the point of fertilisation to the point of natural death

Each and all of these, "free" market capitalism corrodes to nought, both directly and by driving despairing millions into the arms of equally corrosive Jacobinism, Marxism, anarchism or Fascism.

Therefore, I believe in the universal and comprehensive Welfare State (including, for example, farm subsidies), and in the strong statutory and other (including trade union) protection of workers, consumers, communities and the environment, the former delivered by the partnership between a strong Parliament and strong local government, the whole paid for by progressive taxation, and all these good things underwritten by full employment.

A country’s sovereignty, liberty, democracy and identity are all eroded at least as much by that country’s heavy reliance on imported goods, rather than on a domestic manufacturing base, as by any other factor.

The same is true if a country is heavily dependent on imports in order to feed her people, instead of maintaining a thriving agricultural sector, itself characteristically a bastion of strong family ties, and therefore also of strong community spirit.

And the same is true if much of a country’s agriculture, industry or commerce is owned or controlled by persons who are either not her citizens or not resident within her borders for tax purposes.

Our country’s sovereignty, liberty, democracy and identity have been, and are still being, so eroded, an erosion which we must be determined to expose, to halt, and to reverse.

We must also be determined to expose, to halt, and to reverse the inseparable and deliberate importation of a new working class whose members understand no English except commands, know nothing about workers' rights in this country, can be deported if they step out of line, and (since they have no affinity with any particular part of this country) can be moved around at will, so that the old working class can be told to go hang, taking with it its unions, its minimum wage, its health and safety regulations, and so forth.

I am so determined. Are you? And if not, why not?

Anonymous said...

Aren't the supermarkets awful and Waitrose in particular? I do so hope that this bizarre left/right anti-supermarket pro-supplier alliance works - because then I will have to pay more for my groceries. And I so want to do that, I really do - I often think "gosh it would be lovely to pay more than the price that a free market has arrived at as the right price". As I am sure do millions of other shoppers.

Or maybe they don't. Maybe, just maybe, tens of millions of people in this country are very happy with low prices and would be incredibly hacked off if the Guardian reading/Cameron loving classes made themselves feel better by driving up prices for consumers - just so farmers can get a new Range Rover every three years rather than having to wait four.

Chris Paul said...

The small suppliers need to COMBINE and stick it to the man. That's what we're all saying. Cartels and monopolies are the aim of capitalists, bringing excess profits and big cheesy grins.

Whether this is at the expense of the worker or the small supplier it is Labour which oppose these market abuses. That's why people are surprised at where you're going with this.

COMBINATION - UNIONS - CO-OPERATIVES - COURAGE MON BRAVES - STICK IT TO THEM

THEM being your lot! Apart from Boff.

dizzy said...

Waitrose is a slightly different company to Tesco and Sainsbury in fairness. Every member of staff is, I believe, considered a partner in the business, same as John Lewis. This is just an observation incidentally.

In relation to people saying that this is "market forces" and the reality of "free markets" that's a load of tosh because the market is not free. CAP makes sure of that, and the tariffs barriers that stop the developing world competing add to it.

Farmers in the UK should think themselves lucky. If there was a real free market and not EU protectionism they'd have to seriously compete.

JuliaM said...

"Waitrose, for all I know, may have a better record than the others..."

Well, precisely. You've admitted you don't know.

So either do some research and find out, or just admit it's the advertisement you object to, and not the supermarket itself.

I can't stand the one for 'Shiela's Wheels' but it wouldn't lead me to blanket-criticise the automobile insurance industry!

Dan said...

William Sitwell (Editor of Waitrose's food mag) has just been on Breakfast, and nearly had a baby when the presenter asked him what more the retailers could do to help British Farmers. "[cough, splutter] ...I'm not a retailer..."

I'm afraid not mate, you take Waitrose's coin, you flipping well represent them.

Support your local Butcher is what I'd recommend; a fair price for a quality product.

Anonymous said...

"Of course I believe in free markets. But the big supermarkets do not operate in a free market. They use their huge power to subvert the free market of supply."

This comment is economically illiterate nonsense, Iain. Supermarkets are big boys for sure but the retail sector is certainly competitive. Please actually read the Competition Commission's report on the sector and on the Morrisons/Safeway merger.

The reason why suppliers are hard pressed is that the supermarket sector is so competitive that they squeeze supplier margins in order to lower prices to consumers. Suppliers of genuinely dominant undertakings generally do quite well as there is little impetus to put pressure on them.

The solution for farmers is to leave the market. That would increase prices as a simple function of supply and demand (and frequently does - look at milk, cheese and bread prices lately).

Don't make the mistake of deluding yourself that your argument is pro-free market. It simply isn't. By all means still advance the argument if you want that farmers need more support. But don't pretend the argument is something it isn't.

Johnny Norfolk said...

Waitrose are the best supermarket at giving the impression that they are more resposible than the others.
Iain is correct it is not a free market the supermarkets have far more power than is good for them. They need to have constant scrutiny.
Waitrose only react to the market. If they were as perfect as they make out to be, just look at the ingediants of their sliced bread. If after reading you can still eat it you are a better man than me.

El Dave. said...

Dizzy - Waitrose is part of John Lewis, I think.

On the subject of advertising, one of the supermarkets (I forget which, I'm afraid, though it may be Waitrose) defines 'local' as sold within fifty miles of where it's produced. I haven't noticed many farms in London, I have to say. Certainly, there aren't enough to feed however many million live there.

At the risk of being controversial - and I don't know how I feel about this - would it be a good idea to let the big supermarkets run small, village shops? I'm forever hearing about the need for such shops to diversify. The shop in my home village has done so very well, now running a video rental store and organising deliveries around North Cadbury. Could access, perhaps through a franchise, to a large supermarket's logistics and variety be a means of generating more trade for these shops? As the Post Office seems to be dying a death of a thousand cuts, perhaps the financial services that supermarkets offer might also be useful?

Colin said...

Iain, I'm no apologist for Waitrose (which, incidentally, is part of the John Lewis Partnership) but suggest that, in the ten minutes you spent ofn their website, you might have looked at their section on 'Responsible Sourcing' at http://www.waitrose.com/food/foodissuesandpolicies/responsiblesourcing.aspx

The power of the supermarkets has incrwased, is increasing and ought to be diminished: discuss - this is now beginning to be an old question. The free market in groceries and food has been investigated more than once by the Competition Commission and is being investigated again. But the market operates as it does because of demand pull - that is, the supermarkets supply what is demanded of them by us, the customers. And not all consumers have thesame 'demand agenda'. That's why there is room for the Tescos and Morrisons of this world to exist side by side with the Waitroses, which operate in slightly different segments of the market spectrum.If we declined to buy Tesco's cheap chicken sourced in Thailand, then Tesco would get the message and move on.

But I think one of the real and continuing difficulties in all this is the disconnection that exists in consumers' minds between the food on the supermaets' shelves and their perception of where it comes from. There was a 'survey' recently (all right, I know any PR outfit can prove anything by asking round the office and calling the outcome a 'survey') that highlighted the fact that few consumers successfully associated food with its origins, on the hoof or in the field.

It is bonkers to fly in green beans from Kenya but until we cease to buy said beans the pesky supermarkets will go on supplying them. That how the market works - and demand-pull means that we can change it. But we won't, because cheap food has been a key political issue throughhout history. Look at the French revolution and the price of a baguette.

Desperate Dan said...

Waitrose are farmers themselves. They've got their own farm and sometimes have open days when people can visit to see how their animals are cared for and their crops grown.

Tristan said...

Iain:
How don't supermarkets operate in a free market?
There's no monosopy. There's competition. There's no collusion (as has been found time and time again).

There is however no a free market in agriculture. Farmers are kept in business with lavish subsidies. They are encouraged to overproduce which is what causes the low prices they sell at.

You should in stead be campaigning for scrapping the CAP (which would also benefit the environment enourmously) and to making farmers stand on their own two feet.

True, some will go out of business, but that's the way things work, the inefficient go bust, the efficient or those who produce a product people want to buy do well.

So, to the extent there's no free market, its supposedly skewed in favour of farmers through the subsidy system. Of course, this doesn't work, but as a free market supporter surely you recognise why.

Anonymous said...

Waitrose has had a long held practice of backhauling; tehir lorries are rarely empty because they encourage such practices as local producers to deliver their goods to their nearest Waitrose branch, and Waitrose will then distribute their goods throughout their network, saving local farmers a great deal of money in transportation (they don't have to arrange the transportation of their produce to a Regional Distribution Centre that could be hundreds of miles away).

Waitrose also have close to a 100% payment record within a certain time (I've forgotten the exact number of days, but by comparison none of the other supermarkets come close). This benefits the smallest producers the most.

There are many other examples of good practice that have led to Waitrose being the most popular supermarket in the industry. Recently, they have installed signs noting that due to the poor weather conditions, some vegetables may exhibit some signs of flood damage (but the quality is otherwise unaffected). They are also paying more to support farmers this year.

Ted said...

Iain,

Agree that the large supermarkets are exploiting their market position but think you should have spent a bit more time looking at Waitrose site before posting. In addition to link Colin posts (which I found within 2 minutes of search - there is also this website:
http://www.countryliving.co.uk/index.php/cat/17318

UK farmers need every bit of help they can get and if Waitrose is doing more than the rest (not hard) perhaps attacking them isn't the way to get the others to follow their lead.

Anonymous said...

I don't feel sorry for farmers. I have had to twice reinvent my career due to a weak market. What makes them so special?

Chris Paul, how exactly does one exploit oneself? Actually, I don't want to know.

Edward said...

They may be far from perfect but Waitrose are a hell of a lot better than most supermarkets and are better at stocking and marking British food as British. There may be a long way to go, but to highligh and attack them when they are leading the way in the right direction for the real exploiters like Tesco is surely counter-productive.

freddy said...

I think you mean 'Mr Royle'. Mr Royal was Segolene's dad

Desperate Dan said...

Vile apologists for supermarkets on Radio 5 are blaming the middle men. I can quite believe it. Parasitic middle men, who insert themselves in between producer and consumer in every single aspect British life are to blame for an awful lot of what's wrong with the UK. Whose got the Olympics cash? The middle men. Whose got the NHS cash? The middle men. Who's got all the education money? The middle men. Who's got the broadcasting licence fee money? The middlemen. They're the agencies, the quangoes, the consultants, the PRs, the facilitators; the wastes of space. They're the bullshitters.

canvas said...

Tesco and Asda - they're the ones you have to watch out for!

Waitrose (John Lewis Partnership) are a fair minded company.

Nostradamus said...

Oh no, not another Vicky Ford link. Funny how her potato farmer just happens to be in Lincolnshire...anything to do with a vacancy in Gratham & Stamford? Sorry for this negative string (I should be commending Vicky for such work) but her track record and campaigning style of holier than thou on all topics suggests that she is nothing more than cynical carpet-bagging wannabee MP. And we wonder why folks don't take politicians seriously...

Chris Paul said...

People in some co-ops, some family businesses and some social enterprises exploit themselves by choosing to work for lower than their fair price. The market says they should get out but they do not.

no longer anonymous said...

"But the big supermarkets do not operate in a free market. They use their huge power to subvert the free market of supply."

Providing this isn't done with government backing there is nothing un-free market about this - it is simply free negotiation of contract. The fact that one party is richer than the other is irrelevent, providing that wealth is obtained legitimately. That said, insofar as the government makes make life easier for supermarkets than for smaller businesses due to regulations and taxes there is certainly an un-free market.

no longer anonymous said...

"The belief that the “free market” is an economic regime without rules and without any state intervention is the sort of facile interpretation that New Labour has of the mechanism."

Actually you'll find many pro-free market libertarians are opposed to intervention. However, they do accept the need for rules based on the common law.

"It should NOT be an unregulated free for all where the big boys can use their muscle to force down the prices that they pay."

What is wrong with the big boys giving consumers what they want? Providing the big boys do this without state help it's perfectly free market.

"The free market depends on intervention to remain free and to ensure that there are a large number of competitors."

Er, no. Which institution is it that subsidises the national transport network thus disproportionateky benefitting big business? Which institution is it that puts up trade barriers which undermine competetiveness and thus allow big business to remain larger than it might do? Which institution is it that enforces taxes and regulations that disporportionately harm small businesses? Answer: Not the free market. A read of Gabriel Kolko's "The Triumph of Conservatism" shows how an unregulated free market in late 19th century America was leading to the undermining of the dominance of big business. Then all of a sudden the government started to enforce regulations that were supposed to restrict big business. Who backed these regulations? Big business. Who suffered? Small business...