Caterers dragged in to milk debate

RETAILERS HAVE taken a swipe at caterers, food manufacturers and the Government for not paying farmers enough for milk.


Supermarkets have come under intense pressure in recent weeks after a series of price cuts, which the NFU has said has left dairy farmers “at the end of their tether”.


However, the supermarkets have hit back, suggesting the ire of the farming organisations should be reserved for the Government, caterers and food manufacturers.


“Clearly we are not singling out specific companies but we are saying farmers should be looking to the catering sector, food manufacturers and the public sector to deliver the same strong support that major retailers do,” a spokesman for the British Retail Consortium (BRC) told


On Wednesday a collation of UK farming organisations hosted an emergency dairy summit in London. The event was expected to attract 2,000 dairy farmers.


The coalition wants to use the summit to raise the media profile of the milk price ‘crisis’.


However, retailers feel they are being unfairly singled out. In a statement released just prior to the event, BRC food director Andrew Opie claimed supermarkets are the best payers in the milk market.


“The pressure should be on other big buyers of milk – food manufacturers and the public sector – to show the same strong support for the industry that retailers do. The truth is, the farmers in the best position are often those in supermarket supply chains.”


Contracts between retailers and their dairy processors are overseen by the Groceries Supply Code of Practice and retailers and the BRC said processors, manufacturers and the public sector should be held accountable in the same way retailers are, with the Government setting an example over its own procurement.


Government food buying standards have been criticised for being too soft. The Farming Minister Jim Paice was also embarrassed live on Radio 4 in December when he was told that his department, DEFRA, had failed to meet its own standards. Paice said “everything would be put right shortly” but there has been no news from DEFRA or its caterer, Compass.



The British Hospitality Association said catering groups are “naturally concerned about the viability of their source of milk supply, and the price they pay for it, but will always pay the going rate commensurate with volume and other factors”.


A statement continued: “What should be borne in mind is that [in] many public sector contracts [for example hospitals and schools] caterers have to work to extremely tight budgets, which puts an even stronger emphasis on the price paid for raw materials. We believe the catering industry’s support for the milk industry is strong and consistent.”