Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King has questioned the Groceries Code Adjudicator role, which comes into force this week.
Speaking at the British Retail Consortium’s annual symposium in London, King reiterated he sees no need for the position, amid ongoing scepticism among major grocery multiples.
The ombudsman-style post, held by Christine Tacon, will seek to enforce a code of practice between supermarkets and their suppliers.
In reference to the usual role of an ombudsman, which is to protect consumers, he said: “Why on earth should our consumers need protecting from us?”
In his speech, King went on to highlight figures from an IGD ShopperVista survey that suggested the horsemeat scandal knocked consumers’ trust in grocery multiples.
“All of us are going to have to move to a fundamentally different place if we are going to regain their trust,” King told delegates.
Although Sainsbury’s was not directly affected by the discovery of horsemeat DNA in various beef products and ready meals earlier this year, King said no retailer was “100% sure” of avoiding the crisis, because of how supply chains work. Several retailers embroiled in the saga were found to use the same suppliers.
King’s words come in the same month that the UK government launched a review of the country’s food system, to assess “weaknesses in food supply networks”, as well as consumer confidence in the authenticity of produce.
In some circles, the horsemeat issue has amplified calls for shorter supply chains. Tesco, for example, has launched a plan to bring food “closer to home”, and in February said it would begin by sourcing all fresh chicken from the UK from July.
At the BRC conference, King reiterated Sainsbury’s’ plan to double sourcing of food from the UK as part of its 20×20 sustainability plan. “[Right now] we don’t know how we’re going to do that. You couldn’t do it today,” he said. “Clearly we are not going to bring things like bananas to UK sourcing. It’s not about producing things in the UK that are better produced elsewhere.”
In other comments at the conference, King called on all retailers to back the new deal on front-of-pack nutrition labelling announced last week, which he said is in the interests of consumers.