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Blessed are the cheese makers

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 18, 2012

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It is a rare thing for a major supplier to one of the big four supermarkets to stick its head above the parapet and go public in a spat over the tendering process by which products are stocked in stores.

So congratulations are surely due to the West Country cheese maker Wyke Farms, which has called Morrisons' bluff and declined an invitation to increase its "investment" in the supermarket giant. As a result, Wyke Farms' Cheddar, a popular brand here in the region, will no longer be stocked by Morrisons from next month.

The effect could be the loss of around 10 per cent of Wyke Farms' Cheddar sales – but to maintain its place in Morrisons' branches the South Somerset-based business would have had to cut back on the amount it pays dairy farmers from across the West Country for their milk.

As everyone knows, the price dairy farmers get for their milk was the subject of a series of farmers' protests recently with public support firmly on the side of the farmers. Wyke Farms, at Bruton, is one of the good guys in this dispute. This month is has increased the amount it pays to farmers by 0.5 pence per litre. It announced the hike at a time when many other processors and retailers were cutting back on the return they gave farmers for their milk.

The cheese maker won widespread and justified praise for its decision. John Sheaves, boss of the food marketing group Taste of the West, wrote at the time: "Wyke Farms is a global brand with local connections and is therefore able to structure the price to the consumer consistent with the protection of the local supply chain which produces the end product, including the farmer."

Let's hope that the support consumers have shown for farmers over the milk price dispute carries through to supporting businesses like Wyke Farms, who are clearly doing their bit for the primary producers of our foodstuffs rather than paying out to the retailers like Morrisons at the other end of the chain. The best way to demonstrate that, as customers, we really do value the farmers, would be to support Wyke Farms' online campaign to get its cheese reinstated and – even more importantly – consistently choose their products and the products of other local food producers who show real commitment to their West Country suppliers.

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