Grocery hit and miss: Waitrose regenerative farming vs Morrisons lamb

The grocery sector is constantly evolving, adapting and innovating and while some of these moves may be groundbreaking, others don’t always quite hit the mark.

In Grocery Gazette’s latest content series, we shine a light on the biggest grocery hit and miss of the past month. This month we look at the recent changes made by both Waitrose and Morrisons in the farming world.

While one supermarket is making strides in supporting British farmers and improving its sustainable practices, the other has taken a step backwards.

Grocery hit: Waitrose’s nature-friendly farming

Waitrose Leckford farm

For Waitrose, the past month has been all about “nature-friendly farming” as the grocer set out plans to support more than 2,000 of its British farmers by moving to regenerative practices – a way of farming that focuses on improving the health of the soil and the environment, making it more productive.

The upmarket retailer says the move will not only boost financial resilience of its farms in the long-term, but also combat the effects of climate change.

The ultimate goal is that by 2035, Waitrose will source UK meat, milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables from farms that use regenerative practices.

Waitrose executive director James Bailey says that it’s something customers want as they are “voting with their purses and wallets for a food system that restores and works in harmony with the natural world, and that supports a financially sustainable future for British farmers”.

He adds that the move is an important one for Waitrose as the supermarket giant has “a duty to help our farmers make the move towards more nature-friendly growing, and we’re committed to playing our part in the revolution that our country’s food system requires”.

As part of the scheme, the grocer’s British farmers will be able to access affordable finance and be provided with resources to support the transition to regenerative and low carbon farming, alongside a permanent Centre of Excellence at its Leckford farm, which will provide practical tools, workshops, online resources and mentoring to help farmers make the shift to regenerative agriculture.

By 2026, Waitrose is aiming to complete a ‘state of nature’ assessment of all its own-brand UK farms and create land management plans so farmers and growers can improve priority habitats and support thriving biodiversity.

It will also undertake field trials and new innovative practices at the Leckford farm, which will help inform its approach to regenerative practices in its supply chains.

       Grocery miss: Morrisons backtracks on its British sourcing pledge

It’s a slightly different story at Morrisons.

Last month, the grocer dropped its pledge to only source British lamb, which was initially launched in 2017, for a new trial to begin selling lamb from New Zealand in 39 stores.

The move comes despite CEO Rami Baitieh having stated earlier this year that Morrisons is a “longstanding supporter of British farming”.

In defence of the change, a Morrisons spokesperson tells Grocery Gazette that the trial follows an “extensive exercise listening to customers who were very clear that they want us to sell lamb at a more accessible price all year round”.

“The blunt commercial reality is that New Zealand lamb is cheaper to source, and therefore cheaper to sell, than British lamb,” the spokesperson admitted.

According the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, wholesale prices have risen by more than 40% year-on-year to over £8.50 per kg, while lamb production in the UK is expected to decline by 1.4%. At the same time, the price of lamb in New Zealand has fallen by around a fifth year on year to less than £3 per kg.

However, the spokesperson stresses that Morrisons will continue to have 100% British lamb on all of its butchers’ counters, with the New Zealand lamb “clearly labelled so customers in these trial stores will see the difference and can make a choice”.

They add that the grocer does not intend for this move to mean a reduction in the overall volumes of lamb that it buys directly from British farmers.

While a noble move to support UK consumers during a period of higher prices, Morrisons has ultimately taken a step back at a time industry leaders are calling for support for British farmers.

In recent months, British farming has seen exceptional rainfall and storms which have impacted the livestock, arable and horticultural sectors and disrupted individual businesses throughout the country.

Just last month, farming unions including the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), NFU Scotland, NFU Cymru and Ulster Farmers’ Union, urged for major retailer commitment to support the industry.

NFU chair David Barton termed the Morrisons New Zealand lamb trial as “hugely disappointing”.

“British food is some of the best in the world and it’s important this is recognised, especially in times of enormous challenge. We hope that this trial by Morrisons is temporary and concludes with a return to 100% British lamb sourcing as soon as possible,” he explains.



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