Cracking code or just cracked?

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Grocery code of conduct not a magical cure-all for suppliers' woes



26 January 2010

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As the ice was thawing and the wheels of the country were finally starting to turn again, we were glad we’d been held up long enough to hear the Minister for Agriculture’s announcement of an impending code of conduct for the grocery industry. From the Minister’s statement we gather that the Tánaiste intends eventually to set in place a statutory code of conduct and an ombudsman to police it, so as to better regulate the relationship between producer, suppliers and retailers.

Of course, true to form for this Government, we have no details, no time frame and no means of evaluating this development, other than to recognise the usual opportunism in the manner of its announcement, at the Irish Farmers Association conference. While the new IFA president welcomes the news, and well he might for the effort expended by that group in lobbying for the very thing, are we wrong to be just a tad cynical about it?

First we hear that the code is to become statutory under new legislation and will be put through the Dáil by the Tánaiste in this term. But then, we understand, it will be introduced first on a voluntary basis – which most agree is a pointless exercise – and one can only ask why bother? If they’re serious about doing this once and for all.

Then for the best bit; the code will be implemented on a statutory footing once the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority are merged into a single body. And here we assume will lie the responsibility for the office of the ombudsman and policing of the code. The same Competition Authority that concurred with the country’s major retailers and rejected the whole proposal as a bad idea?

To be frank, the NCA only ever seems pleased when the price of Irish produce is being hacked down as low as it can go, mostly by foreign retailers whom it applauds for doing so. Which leaves us wondering what the IFA is so happy about, and more to the point, what exactly are we going to end up with? Stakeholders all round, stay on your toes!

On a good note, we’re delighted this month to showcase the best of Irish convenience retailing, in our annual C-Store Awards feature on page 18. David Bagnall and the crew of Spar Park West took the award for C-Store of the Year for the third time, proving that excellence does not depend on soaring profits, just hard work, talent, and oh, a slight obsessive compulsion about your business.

It’s been great to kick off the year with a positive issue, and why not considering the outlook now compared with last January? Ireland has officially left recession, in the last quarter of 2009, the crisis is over. Consumer research analysts have already traced drops of positive sentiment seeping back into the consumer body, such as Mintel’s research affirming that ‘fear’ is so last year. Brightwater’s sectoral salary survey is also very much optimism-scented, forecasting a more stable environment for the coming year. And even the good old NCA revealed that consumers are relaxing a little and starting to opt once more for convenience over price.

There’s no doubt that the winds are changing and it’s for the better this time. So congratulations to the survivors of Recession 2009! Now it’s time to get back to living and growing our businesses again. Happy New Year.



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