Do you know the price of a pint of milk? I dont and Im notoriously inquisitive when it comes to the supermarket shop. If you do, then well done you, but Id bet you are in the minority (even the former agriculture minister hadnt a clue).
However, Id also bet that if you were asked how much you pay for a pint of milk for your business, then youd have an answer. Or at least know very quickly who would have.
In the past couple of months the price of milk has been in the media spotlight, thanks to a brave and hugely ambitious campaign by the UKs farmers (page 30-31). Their case was simple: the supermarkets cant keep paying us less for our milk than it costs us to produce it. Many of the retailers have now budged, eagerly publishing the prices they have agreed to pay on the NFU website.
While the foodservice sector isnt the milk-guzzling behemoth that retail is, there are some big buyers in our midst: the high-street coffee chains,
for instance, the large distributors and the public caterers. I asked as many as I could about their milk procurement
policies and the majority answered, referring to fair prices and support for British farmers. But none would divulge what the farmers who supplied them were being paid. Was it because they didnt want to? Or they couldnt for contractual reasons (if so, how can the retailers do it)? Or perhaps they didnt know (one tried, but after a few days gave up, citing a very complicated supply chain).
Complex as the supply chain might be, this lack of transparency is what makes this debate about more than milk. Responsible sourcing requires companies not only to work much more closely with their direct suppliers but to have a grasp of what goes on further down the chain.
The NFU is investigating a FairDeal scheme for UK farmers. Yes, price will be a critical mechanism but, more than that, it could help bring the foodservice industry closer to its farmers. That is where the real value will be. By the time you read this we will have had our first ever forum on a farm perhaps this should mark the start of a closer relationship between our industry and our farmers.