Leslie Kossoff on ... Birds Eye's decision to axe contracts with 180 Norfolk pea growers

When the global financial system went into meltdown because of the activities of US bankers, I felt a strong need to apologise for my country's activities.

Now, with Birds Eye's decision to summarily cancel its contracts with 180 pea growers in Norfolk and Suffolk, equating to £5m in annual turnover - having given no notice and without extending its wide-ranging corporate hand to assist those who have been loyal suppliers for years - I feel the need to apologise for the behaviour of large corporations.

Unfortunately, for both banks and large corporations, such behaviour is typical. The good news for growers, however, is that there is something you can do about it.

What we've been witnessing over the past few years is a change in the business environment within which growers operate. Edibles or ornamentals, there are no longer any gentlemen's agreements. There is no doing business on a handshake. There is no loyalty.

The more that the big boys bring in their complex business practices, the more that the industry will see the types of corporate behaviours so well known and unloved by the rest of the business world becoming a part of their experience. Get used to it.

It is not personal, and that is the biggest lesson of all. Those growers who got caught in the mix with Birds Eye did not have names, at least not when the decisions were being made. There was a decision that those business leaders had to make. It wasn't about you. It was all about them and their needs.

Well, growers, you cannot let it be about them any longer either. Not Birds Eye, nor anyone else. For you, now, it is going to be all about making sure that you have the widest range of contracts possible to ensure that if one or more of your customers pulls the plug it is a blip rather than a catastrophe on your balance sheet.

This is a wake-up call to all growers. Heed it, because it is not going away.

Leslie Kossoff is an executive adviser specialising in strategy and corporate turnaround.


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