Every year, the Worshipful Companies in London that are involved in food – the farmers, the fishmongers, the butchers, the bakers and the grocers – gather for the annual City Food Lecture in the ancient and magnificent Guildhall. Last week it was given by Justin King, CEO of Sainsbury’s, and there were two things that really struck me:
1.His disappointing content!
2.The dominance of water as a topic and the questioning.
Nothing new or innovative came from Justin King, which was a lost opportunity from a high profile leader in the food sector. What did come over loud and clear, however, was his focus on customers and keeping them happy at all costs – the shadow of the “Tesco’s dip” seemed to be lurking in the room. Any mention of the supply chain was in reference to security of supply for his business in order to maximise profit and return to shareholders. So – suppliers of food – don’t be under any illusion if somebody from Sainsbury’s is being nice or courting you – it is because he needs you now, but that relationship will be fragile and its longevity will be entirely dependant upon whether the food can be sourced elsewhere and more cost effectively. And perhaps, good farmers of the North, that is where water comes in.
Justin King talked about the “explosion of demand for imported food”. What he really meant was the importation of water in vast quantities – think about the green beans, fruit and flowers – put them through the “ringer” and you don’t have much left but a pool of water. The persisting questioning on water has, of course, been followed by the headline news this week of a winter drought in the South East. For those “in the know”, this is no surprise – demand has been outstripping supply for a number of years due to increasing population, industrialisation into the south and warming climate. This is no one off problem, but is a long term trend.
Up north, it is amazingly dry underfoot, but the reality is that we have buckets of water – we just need to make sure that we keep a hold of it, utilise it to best effect for the benefit of our regional economy and get full value out of it. It is going to be worth good money. Don’t take my word for it – ask the Chinese – they bought Northumbrian Water!
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