Kevin Grace, Tesco group commercial director, explains the changes that we have made over the past seven weeks.
In February we made a promise to you, our customers: that we will bring the food we sell closer to home; that we will make the supply chain simpler, more transparent and shorter; and that we will build better relationships with our nation’s farmers. It is now almost two months since we made that commitment. We also said we would keep you informed. Here are some of the changes we have made so far:
Putting in place better controls
We’ve achieved a lot already. We have a world-class DNA testing programme and have tested more than 1,000 products. Our product specification testing capacity is set to double. We are conducting the most thorough review of our meat supply chain so we can remove traders and middlemen who aren’t essential. We’re also reviewing our Approved Tesco Standards for every part of the chain – from farms to processing factories.
Bringing food closer to home
We are on track to source all our fresh chicken from UK farms from July – no exceptions. With fresh chicken making good progress, we have turned to developing a plan to source all of the chicken in our ready meals from the UK and Ireland. All our beef is already British and Irish. Customers tell us they like to know where their meat is from. We are carrying out detailed customer research to find out what you would expect to see on our food labels and we will act on what you tell us.
Building better relationships with farmers
Our Dairy Group, which began in 2007, is a model not just for Tesco but for the industry. We are developing more groups, beginning with pigs, Finest lamb and Finest beef. Over time, we will work towards extending these to all agricultural sectors. Our producer network, where farmers can share information and expertise, is now open to all 700 of our dairy farmers and we will extend it to other farming sectors over the summer. We want to help those networks manage costs and risks for farmers by offering support on logistics, packaging, finance, commodities – such as feed – and other areas.
To aid our support of these networks we are recruiting a dedicated agriculture team, all from farming backgrounds, with expertise in each farming sector and led by a new agriculture director. The next stage is to put all that expertise into a centre of excellence: a model farm programme for each meat species.
One of our actions was to foster longer-term partnerships with our farmers. We are ready to offer two-year contracts to our farmers. We also want to make a long-term commitment to British farming, so we are exploring with the NFU a new scholarship scheme to introduce young people to the industry through training programmes.
Creating more transparency
We have already launched this Food News website. We want to build that into a window on our supply chain, so that customers can see what’s in their food and who produced it. When we make a decision about our food, we want this website to be the place customers, farmers and other interest groups can go to read about it. An example this month was our decision to remove our GM-free guarantee for poultry and eggs, a decision we took having listened carefully to the views of customers, farmers and suppliers.
Customers are central to our business and it is important that we hear your views, but also those of farmers, processors and others. We are setting up an independent panel to scrutinise our supply chain and offer customers’ and farmers’ perspectives on what we do and how we do it.
We have come a long way in seven weeks. Our commitments are challenging and far-reaching, and we will continue to introduce more over the coming weeks and months.