Co-op’s CEO urged the agri audience at the Oxford Farming Conference to manage and control the change ahead. Steve Murrells, who brought the iconic Co-op brand back to the high street in recent years, shared his story of restoring the Co-op to public favour, and the learnings from his own leadership.
“The scale, breadth and complexity of the change is greater than anything I have seen in my lifetime," said Mr Murrells, "Compounded with the challenges of environment, data and social revolution, a generation less well off, rural resilience, breakdown in trust between producers and consumers, an ageing population and their care needs and, of course, Brexit.
He went on to say that in times of change "it is important to face problems, act fast, take your team with you and to change bottom up, not top down.”
The Co-op was created originally in the mid-19th century when there was a lack of safe food at fair prices, and it succeeded because it was timely and relevant, said Mr Murrells. When he was looking at ways to revive the brand, he said they went back to the past and on what its original success was based - trust, values, fair prices - and found new ways to return value to its customers.
“You need to ask yourself, what am I doing this for? Does it still matter? Is it still relevant? How do we prove it?”
Thanking the audience for the commitment the Co-op receives from farmers, Mr Murrells said that the Co-op has made significant investment in British farming, and that the relationship with British farmers is a core part of their advertising campaign in print and online.
As an organisation, they are keen to encourage small scale entrepreneurs, and have created a Farming Pioneer Programme. This gives young farmers the opportunity to share their skills and information with each other as well as the Co-op, and to adapt to other markets.
“It’s in our interests to support the next generation of farming. We tell them it can be tough, but it offers challenges and rewards.”
Mr Murrells went on to say that the Co-op’s approach to climate change is for everyone to work together worldwide. Similarly, in working with global co-operators “we can tackle threats and make the most of the opportunities.”
He finished by saying that “It’s the innovators who will ultimately succeed. If you have an idea, share it with civil servants. Get them on farm - let's tell them the practical story from farm to fork.”
Watch Steve Murrells.