BIFGA says supermarket ombudsman must be 'proactive'

The British Independent Fruit Growers' Association (BIFGA) has welcomed Competition Commission proposals to establish an ombudsman to arbitrate on retailer-supplier relations, but said this must be a proactive role if the top fruit industry is to gain the confidence to invest in its future.

BIFGA chairman John Breach told Grower: "This is the second commission in eight years to identify adverse competition so it's time something was done about it."

In an open letter to the commission's inquiry secretary, Breach said: "While welcoming your proposals, we believe they are really the absolute minimum needed to even begin to correct the imbalance between the buyer power of the larger retailers and the vulnerability of suppliers. This is especially true for primary producers who ... take virtually 100 per cent of the risks involved in growing, harvesting, storing, packing, and delivering the produce to distribution centres, yet receive only around 20 per cent of the (final) price paid.

"For any primary producer, the risk in producing an annual crop lasts for 365 days, whereas for retailers their risk in selling these crops ... lasts for just a few days."

He said supermarkets should not be allowed to water down the proposals set by the commission.

He added: "The supermarkets should have nothing to fear from the proposals - after all, if they are doing nothing wrong they have nothing to worry about. Indeed, we believe the proposals should go even further by giving the ombudsman a role more akin to that of a proactive, permanent regulator.

"It is very likely that primary producers will lack the confidence to bring complaints ... If it became generally known that inquiries were taking place, even those who were not contacted might feel 'safe' to contact the ombudsman direct.

"The climate of fear, however, is likely to persist until such time as the ombudsman has been able to demonstrate that he or she will not tolerate inappropriate behaviour by the retailers."

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