Tesco eyes up local producers

STEVE DOWNES Supermarket giant Tesco was branded “cynical” last night as it floated plans to have aisles of locally-produced food in its stores.The company, which has been accused of contributing to the death of a host of East Anglian town centres, floated the idea as it reported exceptional Christmas sales figures.

STEVE DOWNES

Supermarket giant Tesco was branded “cynical” last night as it floated plans to have aisles of locally-produced food in its stores.

The company, which has been accused of contributing to the death of a host of East Anglian town centres, floated the idea as it reported exceptional Christmas sales figures.

Finance and strategy director Andrew Higginson said sourcing more products locally was being considered, as he reported a 5.9pc rise in sales in the six weeks to January 6.

But the idea, which is subject to “focus groups and testing”, provoked suspicion - and fears that local producers could “overstretch themselves” to meet Tesco's demands.

Reg Grimes, who is a member of anti-Tesco group Sheringham Campaign Against Major Retail Over-development (Scamrod), said: “It's cynical. There's no doubt that Tesco has contributed to the demise of lots of local producers.

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“If they want to put the local greengrocer out of business, they can do it just like that. This move to stock local produce has become increasingly popular with people. This is an advertising gimmick.”

Roys of Wroxham has been using locally-sourced produce in its stores for 111 years, according to trading director Bill Warnes.

Mr Warnes welcomed Tesco's apparent shift towards home-grown products - with reservations.

He said: “I'm pleased local producers may have the opportunity to put local volume through and make people aware of what's available locally.

“We've always done this. But I think it's fashionable at the moment for the major operators because they know how much people are aware of local produce and that they want to know where their food comes from.

“It's something I'm passionate about. We've got all this lovely land around us, growing lovely produce. For us to be able to get it and put it in our store the same day is wonderful.”

Mr Warnes added: “The volumes required by the big operators means lots of smaller producers will have to put in added investment. As easily as Tesco can take the producers on, it can shut the door.

“That's the only thing that makes me a bit nervous. I don't want the producers to overstretch themselves.”

A Tesco spokesman was unable to confirm if or when the move was likely to happen.

He said: “There are lots of ideas. They are subject to rolling out and testing. It's no secret that we are looking at regional sourcing.

“It's all just ideas at this stage. These are things we think customers may be interested in, but it's a question of focus groups and testing before it happens.”

Nick Saltmarsh, project manager of East Anglia Food Link, which develops, support and promotes sustainable and localised food systems in the East of England, was cautious.

He said: “We don't see the supermarkets' moves into local food as bringing the same benefits as a genuinely local system, where there's local retailing as well as local supply.”

Mr Saltmarsh added: “Buying local food helps to reconnect us with the origins of our food.

“Buying from local producers and shops benefits local economies by keeping the money spent in local circulation. Not only that, but good local food is tasty and enjoyable.”

But he also spoke up for the need for “thriving and diverse” producers - not just supermarkets.

He said: “Local shops may not present the apparent profusion of a supermarket's ranked shelves but they bring real diversity to our villages, towns and cities. Independent local shops are vital to communities.”

Tesco's bumper Christmas - page 2 of Business.

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