THE NFU has published a poll this morning showing that, wait for it… consumers want more British food in restaurants and supermarkets.
According to the poll, 86% of shoppers are “as likely” or “more likely” to want to buy more traceable food that has been produced on British farms. What’s more, 78% “agree” or “strongly agree” that supermarkets (but not restaurants?) should sell more food from British farms.
I’m not one for polls, but this is one of the most pointless I have come across. Has the NFU got nothing more ground-breaking to say at the start of its annual conference than the bleeding obvious?
In the press release announcing the poll results, the NFU’s president Peter Kendall claims that farmers are “furious” about what has happened. So are retailers. And manufacturers. And caterers. And pub chains. But so too are consumers.
In fact, it’s consumers that should be the most furious – as it’s us that have been eating horse (possibly). What we don’t need is someone calling us up to ask whether we’d rather eat horse burger that’s been fingered by 21 different companies in 13 other countries before we get our mitts on it, or a beef burger from the farm down the road. That’s obvious.
However, what consumers say and what they do are very different things – and the retailers and foodservice companies know that. They will also know that putting British meat on the menu makes business sense at the moment (though some restaurants have, apparently, made a mint in the past couple of weeks by selling equine to the inquisitive). The problem will be keeping it there.
For years consumers have been told that it’s cheap food that they want – whether it’s British, Brazilian or from anywhere else doesn’t really matter. A few bits of horse in a lasagne can’t undo that overnight: a fraction of income is now spent on food and the vast majority of shoppers and diners have got used to it. And that means the companies selling food – the retailers, the caterers, the pub chains et al – will want British meat to come cheap.
For me, that is what the NFU should be concerned about. Farming incomes are falling, margins are wafer-thin and the weather has battered the sector in the past 12 months. The UK has a system that can’t be sustained – and that should concern the food companies wanting to sell British produce too. But it should also concern consumers – the ones that will be buying it. So perhaps, rather than asking consumers what they think, farmers should be telling consumers how it is.