SUPERMARKETS are losing their power over us all; dodgy accounting on their part and changes in our habits as shoppers are conspiring to make the behemoths nervous. As a result there’s a vicious price war going on – no-one can fail to notice that, and of course we are all going to take advantage of the spoils of that war. But as in every war there’s always a downside and in this case it is the fate of the specialist producers. The interesting sausages, the artisan cheeses, the locally sourced yoghurts and bacon, come not from a huge warehouse on a motorway somewhere, but from small enterprising producers. Initially they are wooed by the supermarket buyers, who, once the marriage is consummated, turn out to be not the ideal partners.
This much I knew and so does everyone who follows the Archers and the saga of Tom and his sausages. What I didn’t know is that the buyers’ bonuses are based on getting cash contributions from suppliers, who can be threatened with notice cancellations and threats to remove their names from suppliers’ lists – blackmail, in other words, or extortion, to put it bluntly. During a time of war of course the screws are tightened further – according to accountancy firm Moore Stephens, 28 per cent more specialist food firms have gone into liquidation this year than last.
Consider this while you are doing your Christmas food shopping. If you are tied to a budget and feeding the entire extended family this year, it is natural you’re going to head for the cheapest turkey deal, but apart from thinking of the conditions under which a turkey can be raised to make it cheaper than chips, think too of the producer whose ethically reared birds, once supplied to the upmarket supermarkets, might be being used as cannon fodder in this battle. Save on the wine, save on the liqueur chocolates and crackers, but when it comes to the celebratory bird, go to your local butcher, or to a farmers’ market and spend the savings on a bird that has been raised with celebration in mind.
I’ve turned my back on the frozen geese now in at Lidl’s which, stacked in the freezer, bear as much relation to the once living bird as a remnant from the Ice Age, and have instead ordered mine from Angel Cottage Organics. We had one last year, and it came with all its giblets, with every sign that this was once, in the recent past, a healthy bird. It was superb eating of course, worthy of a place at the feast and worth every considerable penny. In this case it is the producer who gets every penny of the cost of rearing it, cosseting it, plucking it. Angel Farm Organics (whose chickens have won numerous awards) haven’t been blackmailed and bullied by a buyer in search of bonuses.
Or you could consider buying a box of Cox’s (or any other variety you fancy) apples from the Elwell Fruit Farm instead of reaching for a buy-one-get-one-free bag of bruised and battered and chilly Braeburns, and eschew the discounted industrial-sized jars of factory pickles for a jar or two of something special like the Woodbridge Chutney from the fantastic Dorset Blue Cheese Company. Tip this out of the jar before serving it and you could pass it off as home-made.
Cut back on presents for the children if need be, but shop local for all you, and all good food producers, are worth. That way some extra good might come from this battle of the Titans – after all they were well and truly trounced by the Olympians and that should tell us something.