Waitrose in hot water for sourcing New Zealand lamb
Published:  13 April, 2016

Sheep farmers have been left angry with supermarket chain Waitrose after it marketed New Zealand lamb under its Duchy brand. 

Members of the public have taken to social media to vent their annoyance, with some aiming criticism at Prince Charles, who originally established the brand. However, Waitrose gained rights to the Duchy name in 2009.

“It’s really shocking that a retailer with a reputation like that of Waitrose would choose to do something that is so clearly misleading,” said Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association (NSA).

“We know that Waitrose doesn’t stock UK lamb in its standard ranges during winter, which we find incredibly disappointing, but consumers identify the Duchy brand with real provenance and expect it to be British.

“NSA does not support Waitrose’s position that UK lamb is poorer quality during the winter months and, if the retailer really wants to support British farmers, it would find a way to improve its sourcing policy across the board.”

In response to the criticism, Waitrose insisted that it operates a ‘best in season’ policy for all of its lamb, both conventional and organic. This, said the supermarket, ensured that customers could buy the highest-quality lamb all year round.

“During the British season, we only sell UK-farmed lamb – predominantly from Wales and the West Country,” said a statement from Waitrose. “Outside the UK season, conventional (non-organic) UK lamb is always available on our service counters from a small number of our farmers who specialise in all-year-round production.

“In a similar way, we are currently running a trial with some of our UK Duchy organic lamb farmers to establish the potential to extend the season of its lamb. Overall, we aim to get as many of our organic products from the UK as we possibly can, but in some cases, where it’s simply not possible to source our total requirement for the quantity we need to supply our 300+ shops – as is the case with organic lamb out of British season – we go abroad for a proportion of what we need rather than not offer an organic choice to our customers.”

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe told Meat Trades Journal that many NFU members contacted the union to say what think what Waitrose is doing is wrong.

“From an NFU point of view, we’re a little bit disappointed with them [Waitrose] selling imported New Zealand lamb under the Duchy branding that the vast majority of consumers would associate with British produce,” said Sercombe. “I think it’s wrong to do that.”

He claimed that this misleading practice was undermining British produce and producers. “If they want to label it as organic New Zealand lamb, then they should label it as organic New Zealand lamb, but don’t associate it with the Duchy brand,” he told Meat Trades Journal. “I think it will be much more transparent and open and honest if they actually did that.”

Although Sercombe said he had no problem with the supermarket, he did emphasise that he would prefer it if they stocked British year-round. “If they want to stock New Zealand and they want to have organic New Zealand lamb, then great. But make sure it’s labelled in a way that the consumer knows what they’re buying.”