GCA annual conference shows strain on supplier relationships

A generic image of supermarket shelves

GCA (Groceries Code Adjudicator) Mark White tells conference he wants retailers to reignite the collaborative approach with suppliers which was in place during the Covid-19 pandemic, after the GCA annual survey highlighted a harsh reality of relationship breakdowns.

The event covered the recent annual survey results, deep dive interviews and a range of engaging panel discussions and was attended by NFU Horticulture Board chair Martin Emmett and Chief Food Business Unit Adviser Amy Fry, as well as several supplier representatives, designated retailers, and other industry experts.

Deep dive interviews highlight relationship breakdown

During the event, YouGov presented its deep dive research following the GCA annual survey earlier in the year.

Although the quantitative data published earlier in the year suggested overall compliance with GSCOP has improved, the supplier deep dives highlighted a harsh reality of relationship breakdowns.

Those experiencing issues with the code has increased from 29% in 2021 to 36% in 2023, highlighting the deterioration in the quality of relationships between retailers and their suppliers. One supplier stated: “2022 was warfare. My hardest year in business.” (YouGov, 2023)

Suppliers reportedly felt there is less good faith shown by retailers and securing CPI requests has remained particularly challenging in the past year.

“The issues raised in the deep dive surveys echo concerns highlighted by our members. Retailers must work collaboratively with their suppliers and, when additional stress is put on farmers and growers, it is vital they are able to operate in a fair and transparent supply chain.”

NFU Chief food business unit adviser Amy Fry

The interviews showed retailers continue to use delay tactics such as justification forms, unclear communications and open-book costings.

One supplier stated: “Availability was used as a delay tactic, holidays were used as a delay tactic. Some of our buying managers must have had 15 weeks holiday.” (YouGov, 2023)

Some suppliers have been approached by retailers with cost decrease requests. However, only some raw materials have seen a marginal decrease and, in some cases, suppliers have failed to obtain the increase needed to deal with inflation in the first place.

It was suggested, some retailers' attitudes towards CPI were seen as temporary and they expect to revert to previous pricing.

Closing remarks from the GCA

In his closing remarks, Mr White said he was disappointed to see some of the comments in the deep dive survey and he wants to see retailers reignite the collaborative approach which was in place during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Moving forward, he highlighted how he will continue to work closely with retailers and monitor how they are engaging with suppliers.

He recognised the challenges around high staff turnover which acts as a barrier to relationship building and category knowledge.

As a result, he will be working with retailers to ensure buyers are in post for a minimum period of 18 months.

Issues around CPI requests remain GCA focus

It was clear the issues around CPI requests will remain a focus for the GCA.

He will continue to request information from retailers around responses to CPI requests focusing on aspects such as timings of responses.

The GCA will continue to use the seven 'golden rules' as a framework to support his work with the code compliance teams around both cost price increases and decreases and sees this as a continued priority.

The NFU will continue to meet regularly with Mr White and feed in information on behalf of members to the GCA to shape his work with the 14 designated retailers.

If any suppliers are experiencing code-related issues, we urge you to confidentially contact the GCA by calling 0207 215 6537 or emailing [email protected]

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