WWF-Tesco Sustainable Supply Chain

Do you think that supermarket supply chains should be sustainable?

We have been working for the WWF-Tesco partnership on an exciting project titled ‘Embedding Sustainable Agriculture Principles in Retailer UK Agriculture Supply Chains’.

WWF is seeking to halve the environmental impact of the UK shopping basket and focus on seven of the most impactful environmental issues: climate, deforestation, diets, agriculture, marine, food waste, and packaging. At the Glasgow-based COP26 climate conference, Tesco was among several of the UK’s largest food retailers to sign up to the commitment, known as the WWF Basket Metric, by 2030. A blueprint for action has been published setting out objectives, actions, and indicators for supermarkets to achieve performance against the seven issue areas.  By 2023 retailers are required to have everything they need to deliver the basket metric objectives.

We have been working with Tesco to carry out a detailed study to identify key elements of the basket metric that are important to their business and the actions required by them to meet the objectives. The project so far has included a combination of detailed research and interviews with key supply chain participants. A survey invitation was also included in Farmers Weekly and got a good response by farmers identifying interventions currently being used on their farms to improve sustainability. These included small-scale interventions such as cover cropping, planting hedgerows and installing bird boxes to more innovative initiatives to drive profit.

In mid-October 2022, we held a workshop at Tesco Headquarters in Welwyn to seek informed feedback on the initial findings of the study, to ‘stress-test’ and identify any gaps. The event was well attended and included 8 farm-owners; representatives from Tesco and WWF; intermediaries including Muller, Kepak, Branston, Cranswick and Noble; NGOs Norfolk Rivers Trust, Wye and Usk Foundation and Trent Rivers Trust; and Advisors from Defra, Savills, Hutchinsons, Agrii, FWAG and UKRI.

The event’s focus was to investigate barriers to sustainability in the Agriculture supply chain. ‘Quick wins’, i.e. interventions that drive sustainability in the long term but can deliver profit in the short term, were identified from the survey responses, and 3 farmers were then selected to present, as their methods were particularly innovative or showed real potential:

  1. Stephen Shields, representing Huntarpac, talked about their approach to sustainability and their net zero trials and strategies for carrot production. They had seen a remarkable 99% reduction in CO2 emissions using a cover crop and reduced tillage, alongside sheep grazing to remove the cover crop and low chemical inputs.
  1. John Myhill, who is associated with a family farm in Norfolk and an agronomist for the Maize Growing Association, had a very different approach to sustainability, advocating for maize undersowing. He approached Norfolk Rivers Trust and Anglian Water to develop a seed subsidy for farms. He has then used this subsidy to develop a specialist drilling machine to deliver maize undersowing. His trial aims to highlight the benefits of the system including enhancing soil structure and organic matter, reducing soil erosion and water pollution. John had seen a reduction in over-winter runoff by c.50% and sediment losses by c.85%, compared to the conventional maize stubble treatments.
  1. Garry and Jess Yeomans, goat and cattle farmers, had been looking at growing homegrown proteins in the form of lucerne, which has reduced their soya use by 60%. They have reduced diesel by 20% and electricity by 10% by increasing energy efficiency on their farm direct drilling all crops. They have also reduced fertiliser by 45% through, amongst other things, growing nitrogen fixing legumes, soil mapping, eliminating artificial phosphate, and more efficient use of manures.

The second half of the day saw the room breaking into discussion groups, led by EA representatives to speak about; Openness to Change, Market Savviness and Finance, and Monitoring and Reporting.

Some of the key themes during the discussion included:

  • Collaboration is key at a local scale
  • The importance of long-term relationships, 1 on 1 mentoring, cluster groups and peer to peer farmer advice forums for knowledge share and uptake of good practice
  • Value of multi-stakeholder forums such as this meeting where actors from across the supply chain get to sit opposite each other at a table
  • Trust was a big driver of change and there is currently a lack of trust within the supply chain, going up and down and also at consumer level or even fear of change
  • Finally, trade-offs are inevitable with conflicting pressures from different sides of sustainability eg the most efficient methods for farmers being set against the pressures of what consumers are expecting.


Feedback received:

“It was a fantastic event and all of the participants were grateful of the opportunity, it was a really good spread of people and everybody was very engaged and motivated” Guy Reed, Director, Earth Active

“…a really valuable and well executed day” Peter Illman, Agriculture Manager, Tesco

“The group session was informative, the presence of someone to direct the conversation was valuable as it made sure we understood what was being looked for and also ensured some quieter individuals gave some contributions as well”  Farmer Attendee

“it was good to meet such a cross section of suppliers and other organisations”  Farmer Attendee


We/Earth Active are also continuing to work closely with WWF-UK and Tesco following on from a project we undertook in 2021 where we completed a review and roadmap for a global biodiversity strategy for Tesco to deliver enhanced biodiversity outcomes in the agricultural supply chains.

Watch this space for more detailed findings of the outcomes of the workshop and these exciting projects.

25 October 2022
Catherine Barrett
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