- a blog about food and value

A Retail Ombudsman?

IFA President Padraig Walshe

IFA President Padraig Walshe (Photo: RTE News)

Sometimes, cheap eats have a hidden cost: someone somewhere is paying for it. Early last month, the Irish Times reported on Minister of State for Agriculture Trevor Sergeant’s calls for a retail ombudsman to monitor how supermarkets set their payments to suppliers and farmers.

Yesterday, RTE Radio One’s DriveTime show reported on a call by the UK’s Competition Commission for an ombudsman to mediate in disputes between supermarkets and suppliers. The ombudsman would become involved where UK farmers feel they are not getting a fair deal for their produce.

Right on cue, the Irish Farmer’s Association is calling for something similar here. IFA President Padraig Walshe says that legislation is needed to deal with the impact of supermarket’s power over food producers, suppliers, and farmers. He also called for a Code of Practice to outlaw below-cost selling, as the producer rather than the supermarket is often expected to take the hit. It might be good for my wallet and yours, but the producers are often making a loss. And if a relatively small producer complains, will the powerful supermarket listen?

Of course, supermarkets have enormous buying power; suppliers, like the rest of us, have a love-hate relationship with them. Do you think an ombudsman is needed to regulate the relationship between suppliers and supermarkets? Do the farmers and suppliers have a case, or are they simply resisting the same downward pressure on prices that the rest of us have all been subject to over the past year? Go on, be honest: do you care?


  1. The question is not whether we care Peter, but rather would an ombudsman have any real power. Of course there should be something done about smaller suppliers being squeezed out on account of complaining. But Ireland is great at setting up regulatory bodies with no teeth – National Consumer Agency, Press Ombudsman. What would be far more helpful would be to change the law to prevent bullying tactics by large supermarkets. At the end of the day most people will go for the cheapest price. But people are suppliers too, unlike the executives at Tesco who are clearly aliens.

  2. I agree Snack Box, however, I do buy Irish regardless of the cost on certain items, eg meat and dairy.

  3. Mixed feelings – obviously good to take advantage of new lower prices in supermarkets, tempered by guilt at possibly squeezing out smaller suppliers. Try reading “Not On The Label” ( which is very through provoking. I think there’s a load of newer copycat books out there now, concentrating on the buying (and bullying) power of the supermarkets. At the time I first read it, it didn’t seem particularly relevant here, as it relates to the UK chains. However, it now seems to have taken hold here, especially with Tesco’s recent switch to foreign suppliers.

    Obviously the original producer of the food deserves a bigger cut, especially when the supermarkets are raking it in. Will it stop me buying from them? Probably not, unfortunately.