Following on from part one of this series that looked at the initiatives implemented by Morrisons to support UK farmers, we will now focus our attention on Asda.
The 2020 acquisition of Asda’s controlling share transferred from Walmart to the Issa bothers this year. Quickly we saw the new owners state their renewed focus on increasing the volume of British food and goods its stores sell, including British chicken and dairy as well as domestic grain and vegetables.
So how does the BIg4 chain plan on supporting UK farmers?
Throughout the Spring and Summer, Asda committed to lowering the price of its steak range to ensure affordability to its customers, while providing an avenue for farmers to profit from the more expensive cuts of meat usually reserved for the hospitality sector. The supermarket reduced the prices of rump, sirloin, ribeye and fillet steak while still paying the full value to the farmers and meat suppliers.
However, at the same time, Asda faced criticism over its lack of support for UK produced meat and found itself receiving backlash over sourcing mince from Poland to keep up with consumer demand throughout the first lockdown. The supermarket came under fire on social media from farmers, consumers, agricultural law firms and even politicians. The UK’s National Beef Association, the body that represents UK beef farmers, wrote to company leaders. The letter expressed disappointment at the lack of support for UK beef farmers while asking for proof that the Polish farms met the same safety and welfare standards.
Asda responded by saying that the importation of meat from outside the UK was executed because of exceptionally high demand, and they had to ensure that they could supply groceries to their customers in the height of the pandemic.
Earlier this year Asda pledged to source 100% British beef to protect its supply chain and support UK beef farmers. Still, they have received warnings from within the industry that there will be a waiting period to account for domestic production.
Research has shown that Asda increased the number of British Pork products it had on its shelves. In 2019, 53% of its pork and bacon were British, an increase of more than 15% on the previous year.
However, while other supermarkets have been sourcing 100% British beef and lamb for several years, Asda only did so for their premium lines, causing farming associations to urge the retailer to provide more support.
Like other big4 chains, Asda also found itself accused of misleading customers after introducing a re-brand. The new brand used fake farm names to suggest that some of its fresh meat, fruit and vegetable products were locally sourced from British farms.
In reality, many of the items are imported from the EU and other countries around the world.
The farming industry labelled the move a ‘kick in the teeth’ to UK farmers and producers. While other retailers have come up trumps for selling a high volume of seasonal British fruit and vegetables, Asda has rarely made it into the top spots. However, it was the first retailer to introduce misshapen produce into its stores, a scheme that has proven to be a great success through reducing food waste and supporting UK produce.
This charity partnership with The Farming Community Network, announced in December 2020, will be providing British farmers with practical, financial and emotional support to help them cope with the increasing pressures brought on by the COVID19 global pandemic and post-Brexit regime.
The Farming Community Network ran an online survey of more than 150 UK farmers, and the need for farming support organisations became clear. The FCN also runs a helpline for farmers, reporting that the majority of the calls they receive are seeking advice and guidance for mental health and wellbeing. Concerned by these findings Arla Farmer Milk and Asda are providing a financial donation made possible by selling an exclusive product in Asda stores. The Arla Farmer Milk product is produced in Leeds, and for each sale, Asda will be giving an extra 25p back to the dairy farmers, as well as the cost of the product – in 2020 alone, an additional £1m was given directly back to Arla’s farmers.
Francesca Boyce, Asda Sustainability Manager Agriculture and Resources, said: “We are extremely thankful to the great work that The Farming Community Network give to farmers and are delighted ‘Farmer’s Milk’ money will help them continue their valuable work, especially in these unsure times.”
Asda has a clear farming policy when it comes to the standards of their supply chain and works closely with farmers to develop better ways of rearing and treating livestock.
In this framework, the supermarket sets out their stance on reducing the use of antibiotics in food production, avoiding routine activities commonly used when rearing pigs, and encouraging environmental enrichment to satisfy the behavioural requirements of the animals.
Asda provides farmers with a set of five objectives and measures that must be carried out by specially trained vets and are committed to only working with farmers who are approved by Red Tractor.
While it’s clear that Asda is making some moves in the right direction to increase its support of UK farmers and producers, we can only hope that it does so in a transparent way. Be sure to check back for the next article in this series.
I started The Sterling Choice with Gareth Whyatt back in August 2013. We’ve always remained true to ourselves and what it is we’re trying to achieve – A great company with great peo...