‘Food is too cheap’ warns poultry boss as factories hit by inflation wave
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Hundreds of farmers are struggling as the entire food sector buckles under the pressure of soaring costs and lack of workers, the boss of two poultry giants with factories in Norfolk and Suffolk has warned.
Ranjit Singh Boparan — who owns chicken giant the 2 Sisters Food Group and turkey giant Bernard Matthews — has warned that “rampant” inflation and lack of labour means cash-strapped consumers will face higher food prices.
Mr Boparan — whose food empire includes the Bernard Matthews plants in Great Witchingham and Holton, Halesworth, served by about 56 farms and employing 2,000 people, and 2 Sisters factories in Flixton, near Bungay, and Thetford employing hundreds of workers — is calling for “honest pricing”.
“There’s hundreds of farmers out there struggling, and they need our support just as much as anyone. Talk of ‘year zero’ might sound dramatic, but these are the facts — we really have to start thinking differently about what our food priorities are and what they cost,” he said.
“How can it be right that a whole chicken costs less than a pint of beer? You’re looking at a different world where the shopper pays more.”
He added: “The days when you could feed a family of four with a £3 chicken are coming to an end. We need transparent, honest pricing. This is a reset and we need to spell out what this will mean. Food is too cheap, there’s no point avoiding the issue. In relative terms, a chicken today is cheaper to buy than it was 20 years ago.”
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He welcomed the government’s decision to introduce temporary seasonal visas for poultry workers and its willingness to look at supply chain, but warned that less labour meant “less choice, core ranges, empty shelves and wage inflation”.
He outlined the range of increased costs his business was facing, including farms rearing millions of chickens which have been “severely hit” by the supply crisis. These had seen feed cost rises and wage rises of 15% while other commodities soared by 20% including feed diet supplements, wood shavings for litter, disinfectants and veterinary costs, he said.
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2 Sisters’ 600 farms and 16 factories — which employ a total of 18,000 people — are facing huge energy commodity costs up 450% to 500% from last year. An HGV driver shortage, CO2 scarcity, a rise in packaging costs was also hitting the industry, he said.
But there was a willingness to sort the problems out rather than see the British food sector wither and die, he said. “I don’t want that to happen — I want to be one of the first to face into a crisis that’s not going away and solve it.”