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Cheese maker takes on retailer

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 18, 2012

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Chief Reporter

A Westcountry cheese maker is standing up to a national supermarket giant, declining to increase its "investment" in the retailer to get shelf space for its products.

Somerset-based Wyke Farms has lost its place at Morrisons, which is dropping the firm's cheddar cheese next month.

The cheese maker, recently championed by the food marketing group Taste of the West, is now appealing directly to consumers, via the social media website Facebook, to put pressure on Morrisons to put its cheese back in their stores.

Wyke Farms managing director Richard Clothier said it was "very disappointing" after an eight-year relationship with the supermarket had gone from strength to strength. But he said Wyke Farms had been unable to compete financially with bigger cheese producers when they were asked to "invest" in the supermarket. "Our products have been selling very well in Morrisons and the relationship we have had with them over the years had been very good," Mr Clothier said.

"We thought we had put together a strong proposal for why we should remain in store, but then the auction went to a blind round, where suppliers were given the opportunity to invest further, and we didn't make it."

He added: "Investing further in Morrisons would have been at the expense of the price we pay our farmers and at the expense of our business and so it wasn't a sustainable business option."

At the height of the dairy farmers' protest over milk prices last month, Wyke Farms announced a flat rate increase of 0.5ppl to be added to its payments, winning widespread praise. The increase brought the Bruton-based company's payments up to 28ppl, to its 135 farmer suppliers.

The firm had been selling some 40,000 packets of cheddar a week in Morrisons – sales that will disappear from the middle of September. It represents less than 10 per cent of Wyke Farms business which also supplies other major supermarkets.

The cheese maker has now turned to Facebook, urging shoppers to "save" its cheddar by telling the supermarket's customer services department they wanted the cheese to remain in stores.

More than 9,000 people have so far backed the campaign page at www.facebook.com/wykefarms. Mr Clothier said he hoped it would demonstrate to Morrisons that it had a loyal following.

He added: "I don't think how much a retailer makes on a particular product would be a key driver for the purchases that most shoppers make."

Mr Clothier admitted that he was nervous about the possible consequences of launching the campaign against one of the so-called "big four" supermarkets. But he added: "Someone has to stand up and be counted although it is a dangerous thing to do and we have been warned by a lot of people. But we have also had an awful lot of other Morrisons suppliers who have said 'I am really pleased you are doing it because we are not brave enough'."

A spokesman for Morrisons said: "We took the decision to remove the Wyke Farm brand following an extensive category review of all of our pre-packed cheese. Feedback from customers was that there was a lot of duplication in our range. The decision was also formed by our desire to have more of an own brand offering ahead of our category re-launch in September."

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