17 February 2017

Morrisons to ‘hedge bets’ and recruit more UK-based suppliers

Morrisons is aiming to recruit 200 more British suppliers after a report commissioned by the supermarket found that only just over half the food eaten in the UK comes from local sources.

The report, by Professor Tim Benton of the University of Leeds, highlights the growing risks associated with a global food supply chain. Benton warns that increased frequency in severe weather events caused by climate change, combined with political changes, such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, may affect global trading relationships and compromise the food supply. Trump’s protectionist agenda may lead to countries hoarding the crops they specialise in, for example.

he effect of restricted food supplies has been highlighted by recent shortages of fresh produce due to poor weather in southern Spain, where more than 80% of the UK’s leafy vegetables come from during winter.

“The future of the UK food system that we advocate is a response to the risks and uncertainties of the future. It is not to disengage from reliance on global trade, but to hedge our bets by increasing local production for local consumption,” Benton argues in the report.

The chairman of Morrisons, Andy Higginson, said: “Morrisons is already British farming’s biggest single customer, and the publication of the report today from Prof Benton makes us more determined to produce more of our food and source more from local British suppliers … We want small UK food suppliers to become bigger ones and we also want to give our customers the option of more food that meets their local food tastes.”

Benton points out that UK production of high-value crops shot up between 1997 and 2006 – strawberry output, for example, rose by 125%. But he suggests there is an opportunity to expand in other areas as production of most of the 20 indigenous fruits and vegetables grown here has slid. Production of French beans and runner beans fell 49% over the period, while orchards now account for 25,100 hectares (61,997 acres) compared with 113,000 hectares 50 years ago.