UK supermarket Waitrose is keen to work with more small, local and regional producers. The retailer has launched its Small Producers Charter, setting out its approach to the supply chain for the particular benefit of small scale and regional producers. This is a positive step to winning back trust from smaller producers, who've had their fingers burnt when playing with the big boys in the past.

Waitrose clearly wants to offer customers a greater variety of food and drinks from smaller specialist producers. In the battle for market share, retailers are increasingly realizing that there is a growing consumer interest in quality and variety - not just value for money and convenience.

Many consumers are increasingly purchasing groceries on the basis of quality attributes such as taste, variety, freshness and authenticity. The European market for high quality, regional specialty and gourmet food and drinks was worth €33.8 billon in 2001. Over the next five years this market is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 4.5%.

However, being able to offer consumers specialist food and drinks from small suppliers has been problematic. Small-scale suppliers have accused large retailers of overextending them, forcing them to sacrifice product integrity for more efficiency. The UK Guild of Fine Food Retailers says that many producers will not trade with the major retailers.

Waitrose has been making efforts to improve these strained relationships.
For example, its sourcing strategy is flexible enough to accommodate 26 small-scale British cheese suppliers. The retailer does not want to squeeze the cheese suppliers, so it allows them to supply a limited number of its nationwide stores. The retailer is keen to be seen as a supporter of small scale, local businesses and being able to offer good quality regional food to attract customers. This charter will help create openness and trust with producers that have had their fingers burnt before.

The charter aims to win the trust of smaller producers and the non-committal nature of the advice it will offer should go a long way towards that. In the long run there will be a need for an independent third party to oversee sensible sourcing from smaller producers, as more major retailers will want to stock a greater variety of high quality foods. However, this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Related research: Datamonitor, "Specialty & Gourmet Shoppers" (DMCM0097)