Marks & Spencer eager to develop closer relationships with farmers

Written by Richard Halleron from Agriland

Marks & Spencer is keen to develop ever closer supply relationships with farmers across the island of Ireland.

It was a point made by its representatives at this year’s Balmoral Show which has been taking place this week.

Earlier this week, Marks & Spencer opened a new food store in Banbridge, Co. Down, representing the retailer’s 20th outlet in Northern Ireland.

Marks & Spencer’s head of agriculture and fisheries, Steve McLean, visited Balmoral Show earlier this week. He was joined by the company’s agriculture manager for poultry pork and eggs, Peter Kennedy.

“Marks & Spencer remains committed to the island of Ireland, in fact more so than ever was the case,” said McLean.

“We are always looking to develop greater opportunities around more local sourcing.”

Marks & Spencer farm programme​

The company’s Select Farm Programme has been in train for many years, from as far back as the aftermath of Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as Mad Cow Disease.

“It’s a trademark for us, as well being the focal point of the farm programme that we operate. Quality is still the key drive for us by a long way,” McLean added.

“We source from the British Isles because we believe the quality potential warrants us taking this approach.

“Animal welfare and sustainability are still huge drivers for us.”

McLean confirmed, up to this point, animal welfare had been a key point of differentiation for Marks & Spencer.

“But, increasingly, our customers see sustainability as a major issue in the context of their buying decisions. This is particularly the case with younger customers.”


Marks & Spencer has recently gone public with its 2040 ‘Net Zero’ commitment. According to Steve McLean, the company is engaging with all of its main suppliers, including primary producers, with this objective in mind.

Significantly, he cited the opportunities that existed for farmers in the future as they decarbonise their businesses.

The Marks & Spencer team at this year’s Balmoral Show used the opportunity of the event to engage with farming organisations to discuss how best to profile the work that farmers are already doing to protect the environment.

“We also want to identify the further steps that farmers can take to future enhance the sustainability of their businesses,” McLean further explained.

“We will not be dictating to farmers in terms of how they do their job, rather it will be a process of collaboration.”

Peter Kennedy made it clear that Marks & Spencer does not view farming sustainability within the narrow sphere of carbon footprinting.

“Issues such as improved conservation and biodiversity will be an important part of the mix going forward,” he said.

“We will not be telling farmers that they must carbon footprint their businesses. It’s very much a case of all parties working together for the common good.”

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Two of these champions are Malcom Downey, retired principal inspector for the Agri/Food team in HSENI and Harry Sinclair, current chair of the Farm Safety Partnership and former president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

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