Co-op results - Local Economies

Indicator 4.1 View criteria

Issue: Support for the local economy

Indicator: Company policy on sourcing food 'locally'and 'locality' foods

The Co-operative Group does not have a written corporate policy of sourcing local foods, where possible, using the 30-mile definition, nor do they have a written policy of sourcing locality foods. However, they do have a policy of sourcing UK meat, poultry, dairy, fresh produce and organics wherever possible for the Co-op own brand range subject to availability, quality and season.

The Co-operative Group does not have overall percentage targets for sourcing local foods. It approaches sourcing on a category-by-category basis. However it does have specific local food sourcing projects within Scotland, the South West, Wales and Northern Ireland. For locality foods, The Co-operative Group is “targeting 10% regionally”, also determined on a category-by-category basis.

A proportion of the overall food promotions budget is allocated to promote the sale of local and locality foods, although the figure given is vague, and the focus is mainly on Scotland and Northern Ireland. In addition, Co-op store managers do have discretion to recommend local products for inclusion in the range for their stores.


Indicator 4.2 View criteria

Issue: Support for the local economy

Indicator: Local and regional sourcing and promotion

The Co-operative Group have provided percentage figures for their stocking of food lines sourced as local to the Co-op store in which they were sold (<5%), as ‘locality’ food lines sold in or within the source region (<10%), and as ‘locality’ foods sold in all their stores (<10%). Although these give a useful indication of the approximate proportion of local and locality foods stocked by the Group relative to all food lines, these figures are vague, as ‘<5%’ could mean zero or less than one per cent.

The Group states that for Scotland during seasonal production times, ‘locality’ food lines sold in stores within the source region could be ‘up to 80%’. This is an excellent level, although more data on which foods this covers and the lengths of the periods during which these stocking levels are sustained would be very useful. Similarly, more detailed figures for other regions would be useful. Provision of this additional data could gain the Company additional points in Race to the Top.

Promotional activities for local and locality foods were carried out by the Group, including special product displays, point of sale advertising and articles in staff/consumer magazines.

The Co-operative Group does have staff with a dedicated responsibility for helping the company and individual stores to source local and/or locality food.


Indicator 4.3 View criteria

Issue: Support for the local economy

Indicator: Company policy on sourcing food 'locally' and 'locality' foods – store shelf survey

A store shelf survey of local and locality foods stocked by retailers - focusing on apples, potatoes, fresh milk, pre-packed cheese, fresh beef and fresh lamb - was conducted by Sustain and the NFWI. The final survey sample consisted of just 4 stores. This sample was smaller than desired, and had a more limited geographical coverage than desired, thereby reducing the extent to which the store survey findings can be taken as representative of the retailer’s overall performance in terms of local sourcing. The small size of this particular sample was partly due to the fact that many Co-op stores around the UK are independent and have sourcing policies that differ from those of Co-op branches under the direct management of the Co-operative Group. At the request of the Co-operative Group, these independent Co-op stores were therefore excluded from the survey at the outset.

In terms of actual stocking of local and locality foods the Co-op gained the lowest score of the three participating retailers. This result needs to be considered in the context of the smallness of the sample size, and also bearing in mind the sizes of the Co-op stores, which may have been generally smaller than the Safeway and Somerfield stores surveyed.

None of the Co-op stores surveyed had information leaflets for customers on local food, nor any special in-store displays for any local foods. None of the Co-op stores included in the survey had any local varieties of the six foods selected for inclusion in the survey. None of the Co-op stores had any locality apples or locality lamb either, and only one had locality beef. 50% of Co-op stores surveyed (ie 2 stores) stocked locality potatoes, 50% stocked locality milk, and 50% stocked locality cheeses. The average number of different varieties of locality products stocked was also small: 1.5 varieties of locality cheeses, 1.75 varieties of locality potatoes, 1.75 varieties of locality milks, and 3 varieties of locality beef cuts.

Thus the Co-op store survey results suggest that the company’s policies on local sourcing are not being translated into good performance. This may also reflect the fact that 2 of the 4 Co-op stores included in the survey were located in major cities (Cardiff and Newcastle), which tallies with the Co-op’s policy of stocking more local products in market towns than in urban areas, due to greater consumer propensity to buy local products in market towns. However the results for the Redruth, Cornwall store and for the Peterborough store were also low.

Overall commentary and examples of good practice

Overall the Co-operative Group scored the highest marks in this module of all participating retailers. The Co-operative Group provided far more detail than other retailers who responded to the questionnaire, which is reflected in the higher overall score attained. However this still did not meet the full level of detail required.

The Group explained that they have determined that the propensity to buy ‘local’ foods in terms of ‘County’, ‘Locality’ and ‘Immediate Locality’ is greater in market town and rural communities than in urban areas. Their stocking policy is largely a reflection of this perception.

According to information provided by the Group, examples of good practice in stocking local and locality foods include Scottish potatoes for sale in the same region, local brands such as Nambarrie Tea in Northern Ireland, and Bowyers Pies in the South West of England. In addition, they state that for a number of years the Group have been sourcing bakery lines through a number of local bakers, particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland, with the help of a regional development agency. Over 30 such local baker partnerships now exist.

The Co-operative Grouphave a policy of origin labelling beyond the legal minimum on their own brand in general, which they currently take down as far as county level wherever possible for fresh produce, but aim to take down to farm/packer level when feasible with the suppliers. This is a useful way of enabling consumers to choose local or locality products, and can be seen as a way of raising awareness, at least among those consumers who read the labels.

The Group have held a number of well-publicised ‘meet-the-buyer’ events to allow contact with potential new suppliers and to encourage growth in this area, the information from which is fed back to the category teams.

The Co-operative Group also use other means to support the local economies in which they trade. They Group works to complement rather than to compete with existing small local traders by not impacting on their business (eg on occasion not including an in-store bakery). They also provide monetary support for community groups to develop local food initiatives such as allotment schemes and food co-ops, along with providing facilities for farmer’s markets.

Issues thrown up by verification processes: Despite the good level of commitment demonstrated by the above, the verification process suggested that there is still a long way to go before this gets translated into greater availability of local and locality products in stores.


Supermarket comments

"With stores in all areas of the country, our regional and community links play an important part in our supply chain and in our role within the communities we serve. Many Co-op products are sourced within the region in which they are sold, for example fresh meat (apart from New Zealand lamb) and fresh milk in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In a number of cases, we have developed strong links with small local suppliers, especially in the more remote areas of the country where our stores provide a strong community focus. Local bakeries are a particular part of our range, especially in Scotland, although we have been developing links with small producers in various parts of the country where their products can form a part of our range and where food safety standards can be demonstrated. There remain issues of consistency of supply if these are to grow, but our activity helps to deliver this. In the case of one small brewery, our Truly Irresistible Goldminer Ale from the Freeminer brewer, has now achieved national recognition having won a coveted award for quality, and this helps demonstrate our commitment to developing small suppliers with national marketing support."


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