Batchelar said a more integrated, collaborative and interdisciplinary approach was needed, together with adoption of the latest technologies, information systems and understanding about consumer behavioural change, if the UK was to achieve a sustainable agri-food future.
Speaking at a Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum last month on the next steps for UK agricultural technologies, Batchelar, who is industry co-chair of the Agri-tech Leadership Council, said the government needed to focus on the whole supply chain rather than just parts of it.
Batchelar called on the food industry to help by “joining up the dots” in government knowledge.
As the industry awaits publication of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ 25 year food and farming plan, Batchelar said: “We need to make sure that government does ensure that we are able to do what we are good at and facilitates that.”
Loss of market share
The UK retail food scene today is very different to 2012, when the big four multiples dominated in a “space race” to open new retail space, she said. Not only had there been loss of market share to the discounters, consumers had also changed their shopping habits.
This was affecting customer-supplier relationships, she noted. “What you are starting to see are longer-term contracts and relationships and people ring-fencing their competitive advantage where they have one.
“The structural challenges are throughout the entire food system. So if we are to crack all of this, we need a much better joined up approach; an integrated approach that covers off all of those aspects with multi-stakeholders.”
Joined up supply chain
Batchelar added: “We need to truly join up that value chain in ways we have never done before. It is fair to say we haven’t been very good at that and quite often one man’s efficiency in one part of that value chain becomes another man’s inefficiency.
“Our job is to make sure that we can connect that up in a way that really does balance the push and pull of supply and demand. It is easy to say, but really difficult to do.”
Batchelar described work at Sainsbury to improve efficiencies in its supply chains. But she admitted this was still at an early stage and there was still a huge amount of work to do.
She stressed that sustainable structural change was needed to create efficient food value chains for the long-term, rather than focusing on cyclical factors, such as exchange rates, over which the industry had very little control.