BIFGA to monitor supply code of practice

The Competition Commission has given top fruit growers permission to keep an eye on the way supermarkets carry out the new Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP).

The British Independent Fruit Growers' Association (BIFGA) has formed a focus group that will monitor the introduction of the code after a request by BIFGA chairman John Breach was sanctioned by Competition Commission chairman Peter Freeman.

Breach first wrote to Freeman in June to ask if such a focus group would contravene current legislation. His letter followed the publication in May of the Competition Commission's conclusion to a two-year enquiry on the relationship between grocery suppliers and retailers.

In its conclusion, the commission expressed concerns over the relationships between suppliers and retailers and called for the strengthened GSCOP.

It also called for the grocer sector (retailers) to set up its own industry ombudsman to police relations between the two parties.

Breach, in his letter to Freeman, said the BIFGA focus group would help monitor supermarkets' adoption of this and other recommendations in the code.

He said: "This is the second Competition Commission inquiry to have found that there are a number of problems in the way that supermarkets deal with their suppliers.

"It is therefore essential that, on this occasion, the GSCOP follows very closely to your recommendation, and that the supermarkets are not allowed to 'water it down' in any way."

He added: "It is also essential that an ombudsman is appointed as soon as possible and that he or she is able to operate 'proactively'. This could include making random checks on the way the code is operating without waiting for complaints to be made by suppliers - (complaints would be) a most unlikely event, due to fear of de-listing. It is also important that such checks include contacting primary producers."

The Competition Commission told Breach that it was "content" for BIGFA to form a focus group.

It said: "We look forward to learning of (the group's) work."

Since its formation 20 years ago, BIFGA has been proactive in making growers' opinions known to the Government.

It supplied information on the top fruit market to the Competition Commission to help it put together its recommendations for the new GSCOP, and was the first organisation to bring to the attention of MPs the need to bring in regulations to "encourage" multiples to stock more local produce.

In 1994 it gave written evidence to the House of Commons' Agriculture Committee's inquiry into horticulture - which was followed up by oral evidence the following year.

Further activity by BIFGA contributed to the decision in the 1990s to set up the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) inquiry into the four largest supermarket chains.

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