This was the sentiment by Promar consultant Matt Sheehan at the Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group (TSDG) conference on Thursday. And for the 720 farmers who make up this group, supplying Tesco with liquid milk, it seems like he wouldn’t be far wrong.
The day began with an overview of Tesco’s business strategy. Commercial director for Fresh Food, Matt Simister, discussed how Tesco is working to improve its competitiveness, increase its long term sustainability and to rebuild trust and transparency in the UK.
This notion of transparency is a key pillar in the TSDG ethos of ‘Fairness, Sustainability and Transparency’. An ethos that is reflective of so many of the current issues which we see in within agri-food supply chains, it was encouraging to listen to Matt as he said that end-to-end partnerships are vital to success.
The TSDG is the UK’s largest dedicated sustainable dairy group, as the speakers were keen to point out. Even so, its relatively small size and integrated approach has afforded Tesco the ability to create a much more integrated supply chain, working in partnership with their farmer suppliers.
Milk is a product which one can find on the shelf of every supermarket and convenience store in the country and Matt pointed out that like-for-like, Tesco would not be beaten on price for a product which could be found in a competitor’s store.
But, through the TSDG, Tesco are attempting to add value to their liquid milk, by differentiating their product. This is reliant on consumer messaging and is most visible through the ‘Fair for Farmers guarantee’ which was introduced in July.
Key consumer messaging is vital, and is increasingly centred on food marketing, and how Tesco can ‘sell the story’ behind their milk.
Pride in the TSDG group was noted as a big part of selling this story and we heard how the aim of the TSDG is to generate a likeminded group of farmers all moving in the same direction.
Collaboration is central to this and there was a definite sense that Tesco were trying to work with their farmers to drive progression in terms of welfare, antibiotic usage and on other health issues such as Johnes.
Benchmarking was viewed as key and it was clear that no farmer would be allowed to rest on their laurels. The new QVIS scorecard introduced this year, with its traffic light system to simplify the identification of areas for improvement on farm is a simple way for Tesco, through their partner, Alltech, to monitor on-farm practice. I hope this will instil change rather than be a matter of ticking boxes.
The majority of the 500 TSDG farmers in the room agreed that their businesses had benefitted from being part of the group – understandable in the face of the difficulties the industry has experienced over the past few years. But, sitting in the conference, I got a real sense of an ‘us and them’ mentality, between TSDG farmers and the rest.
Yes, Tesco were here to sell the value of the TSDG to their farmers, and they did a great job of it, but in trying to differentiate themselves from the rest of the industry they are serving to fragment it even more. The benefit of the TSDG for those farmers within it is undeniable, and they really are pushing forwards as industry-leaders. But, there is still a significant amount of farmers out there who aren’t within a retail pool, leaving much work to be done by others in the supply chain in developing better opportunities for all.