The Food Chain is a Dysfunctional Family, writes Matthew Rymer

23rd Sep 2017 05:00 AM

Imagine the food chain as a family...
Imagine the grandparents as the consumer. They want to trust what they buy. They care about the pennies but also how their food is produced, and they expect honesty and truth. They tend to take food at face value, but are getting increasingly suspicious of what they are told.
They like their Son, they see him most often. He’s the retailer.
He’s a successful high achiever. He presents himself well. Very efficient. Maybe they don’t quite see his tendency to be domineering, ambitious and at times bullying. They have their doubts he is quite honest with them, but until now they have asked few questions.
He married their daughter in law, the food processor and manufacturer. She found his power all too irresistible. Afterall, she didn’t want to be left single. She could not afford to be.
She now spends her time patching things up, sweating behind the scenes to make ends meet – squeezed between the demands of her husband and the health of her children.
Her children are the farmers and growers.
The eldest Son is the large scale farmer. He’s Daddy’s boy. He farms intensively and very productively. Though bullied by his Father, his future is reasonably assured for as long as he works with Him.
Then there is the middle Son who is the independent family farmer. He struggles and shouts his passion the loudest. He feels no one really listens to him. He is torn between emulating his elder brother or taking his own path in life.
Then there is the youngest Son – he is our future farmer. He is sensitive to his Grandparents – and he is their darling hope. But his hopes and needs are constantly lost in the noise of his brothers.
The family keeps going  – to an extent – due to Nanny, the EU. She spoils the kids with pocket money and tries to protect them from their parents. But Nanny is leaving.
The youngest Son is now turning to his Uncles.
One is an artisan food producer building a great new food brand – he needs to work with independent farms to supply him. Another Uncle is a technological whizz. He is developing technologies that he believes can help farms be more productive AND environmentally sustainable. There is a third.  He sees opportunities to export British food brands across the world, but if only the family would talk to each other.
Each part of this family can tell an amazing story. They are achieving the incredible, all working to feed an ever growing and demanding population, employing millions and exporting billions.
  • So why is provenance fraud costing the UK food industry over  £11 billion a year?
  • Why does the retailer feel the need to create fake farm brands?
  • Why does the food manufacturer need to create fake farm brands?
  • Why does the butcher feel the need to trade as ‘local’ but buy imported?
  • Why does the restaurant feel the need to sell on quantity not quality?
  • Why does there need to be 3 billion subsidy propping up the agricultural industry in one of the world’s wealthiest countries  - with a doorstep population nearing 70million?
  • Why have 50% of remaining family farms gone out of business since 2000?
  • Why do fewer than half of UK adults know butter comes from a cow?
  • Why do 40% of four years old kids not know where milk is from?
  • Why are there more and more scare stories on pig production, chicken production, egg production and more recently dairying?
  • Why are increasing numbers of farmers unwilling to reveal their address for fear of animal rights activists?
  • Why do 72% of people believe there is an issue with food fraud in the UK?
  • Why are one third less trusting of food than they were five years ago?
I will tell you why. Because to function this food chain, this dysfunctional family, has come to depend on too many lies, deceits, ambiguities, disingenuous tactics, omissions and window dressing.
It is undermining every element of the food chain – and ultimately consumer confidence at one end, and a sustainable independent farming infrastructure at the other.
There is an urgent need for a flow and currency of truth through the Family, from farmer to consumer. And that is provenance.
The whole industry can benefit from transparency and provenance – and we all know the consumer wants it.
It is ultimately the consumer’s choice on how they want their food produced and what they want to pay for it. The problem now, is they are not empowered to make that choice.

There is the opportunity to build on Red Tractor and arguably the best audited food industry in the world with the flow of truth – that is Happerley – that is provenance – for the benefit of every business and every consumer. Let's create one truly functional family for the benefit of every member.