9 supermarkets scrutinised – costs of packaged v loose items

More and more consumers are getting concerned about the use of plastics.

Whether it is cups in take away coffee shops, plastic straws or vegetable packaging, the concern and scrutiny over the apparent needless use of plastic is growing. With this in mind, I decided, with the help of some fellow bloggers, to undertake some research into supermarket use of plastics. The findings were more surprising than you would think. The research was also picked up by the Daily Mail Supermarkets accused of punishing shoppers who want to use less plastic as they charge more for fruit and veg that is sold loose and not in trays or wrappers.

Fruit and vegetables

I wrote a shopping list, which for this section was:

6 tomatoes loose
6 tomatoes in packaging
500g cherry tomatoes loose
500g cherry tomatoes in box
seedless grapes 500g loose
seedless grapes 500g in box
250g mushrooms loose
250g mushrooms in box
3 peppers loose
3 peppers in plastic wrap
A cauliflower
A cauliflower in plastic wrap
6 gala apples loose
pack of gala apples
6 pink lady apples
bag of pink lady apples
Pack of avocados
2 avocados
4 baking potatoes
bag of baking potatoes

We then bought the items at nine different supermarkets and retail outlets.

We found that biggest discrepancy in prices was with peppers. Here are the prices of 3 peppers bought loose and 3 peppers in plastic wrap.

Shop 3 peppers loose 3 peppers in plastic
Tesco £1.65 £0.95
M & S £1.50 £1.50
Sainsbury’s £1.65 £1.00
Aldi £1.59 £0.92
Lidl £1.47 £0.95
Morrisons £1.80 £0.97
Waitrose £1.45 £1.50
Co-op £1.95 £0.95
Asda £1.65 £0.95

Red and green pepper 60p bags of peppers £1.17In Marks and Spencer, peppers are the same price whether in plastic or not and actually 5p cheaper when bought loose in Waitrose. All the other supermarkets charge more for loose peppers, the worst culprit is the Co-Op where peppers are 51% cheaper in plastic.

Whilst we may expect to pay more for convenience, Emma Maslin from The Money Whisperer blog is frustrated that not only is most fruit and veg sold packaged, she also ends up having to buy more than she needs. “Co-op is my local convenience store and the place I tend to go for my mid-week top up shops when I need a few bits or have run out of something unexpectedly. If I want to pop in if I’m missing a pepper for a meal, or a piece of fruit for a lunchbox at the end of the week, I find it disappointing that most fruit and veg is sold packaged and not loose.”

Marks and Spencer and Waitrose led the way again with Gala apples. It was cheaper to buy them loose than in a packet. At the other end of the scale Tesco charges 24% to buy them loose than in a bag. Close on Tesco heels is Asda selling them at 23% more and Morrisons at 19%.

Shop 6 gala apples loose Bag of 6 gala apples
Tesco £2.10 £1.60
M & S £1.85 £2.25
Sainsbury’s £1.80 £1.50
Aldi £1.38 £1.29
Morrisons £1.86 £1.50
Waitrose £1.86 £2.00
Asda £1.75 £1.35

The science

Ethylene is released by fruits and vegetables which stimulates ripening and spoilage of produce nearby. This starts a chain reaction and can contribute to food waste. So if you have a rotting item of fruit stored with other fruit it will speed up their rotting. Most of us know that bananas of course will speed up the ripening/over ripening of fruit hence the banana holders! So supermarkets say that they need to package to prolong life. More work needs to be done to determine the food waste due to people buying more than they need and the damaging effects of plastics in the environment.

Consistency

With this in mind it is hard to understand the lack of consistency in loose and packaging prices within and across supermarkets. Why can one supermarket make loose apples cheaper than packaged but not another supermarket?

Here is the situation with the humble baking potato, whether it comes loose or bagged:

Shop Baking potatoes loose per kilo Baking potatoes bag per kilo
Tesco £1.10 £1.43
M & S £2.00 £1.85
Sainsbury’s £1.00 £1.10
Lidl £0.49 £0.72
Morrisons £0.81 £1.00
Waitrose £1.08 £0.84

Despite Tesco and Morrisons both charging more for plasticated peppers and apples than for loose, they both charge less (Tesco 30%, Morrisons 23%) for loose baking potatoes than for bagged ones! Lidl charge a whopping 47% less for loose potatoes compared with the bagged ones.

Marks and Spencer and Waitrose are the opposite! They both charge more for loose potatoes than bagged!

This becomes all the more confusing when checking supermarkets for overall prices.

Supermarket Items available loose Items available packaged Items cheaper loose Items cheaper packaged Same price
Tesco 7 10 3 4 0
M & S 6 8 3 3 0
Sainsbury’s 7 10 2 3 2
Aldi 5 10 2 2 0
Lidl 3 9 1 2 0
Morrisons 7 10 3 4 0
Waitrose 6 10 6 1 0
Co-op 3 8 1 1 0
Asda 4 9 1 2 0
Total 48 84 22 22 2

Lidl, Aldi and Asda offered the fewest loose alternatives compared to packaged items.

Oddly many supermarkets offer grapes “loose” when in fact they still come in a bag as opposed to a box. None of the bloggers were able to understand why a cauliflower needs to come in open plastic either! I don’t think they are alone!cauliflower in plasticgrapes "loose" in plastic and grapes packaged

Michelle, who blogs as Utterlyscrummy and shopped at Asda, was disappointed with the lack of loose fruit, and especially vegetables, there. Eileen at YourMoneySorted researched Lidl and added “I am a huge fan of Lidl, because they offer really great value for money. However, doing this has really emphasised to me how few options there are to buy loose food, thereby making it more difficult to choose more environmentally friendly options.”

The money bloggers armed with their lists also found difficulty comparing like with like in some cases.

Faith at Much More  With Less said “Principles are expensive! It’s frustrating when some packs are labelled with cost per item, like per apple, rather than per kilo, making it more difficult to compare prices. I was surprised how much food was cheaper wrapped in plastic packaging than when sold loose.”

Deli counters

The money bloggers looked at the deli counters where available and compared the prices of counter products with fridge prices and the types of packaging used. At the counter fish, meat and cheeses are displayed without packaging. Is there then a need to add plastic?

The shopping list for this section was:

Tuna 220g – steak fridge and counter
Prawns 200g – coldwater fridge and freezer
Cod fillets 250g – fridge and counter
Mature cheddar – 500g fridge and counter
Stilton – 200g fridge and counter
Ham cooked – 125g fridge and counter
Sausages – 454g 8 sausages fridge and counter

Here are the results of the mystery shopping for those items:

Supermarket Items available at counter Items packaged in fridge Items cheaper from counter Items cheaper from fridge Same price
Tesco 7 7 5 1 1
Sainsbury’s 6 6 1 4 0
Morrisons 5 7 2 3 0
Waitrose 6 7 3 2 1
Total 24 27 11 10 2

The products tended, in general, to be cheaper from the deli counter. However, is this less packaging and do the supermarkets do as much as they can to reduce the packaging further? The money bloggers asked staff at the counters if they could bring and use their own packaging. The answers were a little bemusing:

Tesco said they wouldn’t allow it.

Sainsbury’s said that if someone wants to use their own containers they can do so. But to avoid cross contamination they would have to weigh the items on plastic wrap, and it would then be thrown away. That would use the same amount of plastic as if someone hadn’t brought their own container.

Morrisons said it would be fine to bring in boxes. The counter staff would weigh food on their scales, then provide a sticker with the relevant info and hand over food to put in my boxes. It wasn’t clear if they would use plastic here or the trays.

Waitrose said they wouldn’t allow it.

Cross contamination was cited as a reason for not allowing customers to use their own containers or having to use plastic. But it wasn’t clear why different boxes couldn’t be put on one piece of paper on the scales.

Pricing overall

Bizarrely the research also threw up an unexpected issue for Jamie from ThriftyMummaThriftyBubba, who shopped at Aldi. “As a family we regularly shop at Aldi and like the low prices without compromising quality. Unfortunately, the Aldi staff in the 3 separate stores I visited were unable to give me the price per kilo of individual items. They were also reluctant to let me weigh an individual item on the till which would have allowed me to work out the price per kilo myself. They also had no idea if Aldi HQ would have this information. So, who knows if it truly is better value for money or not because I couldn’t compare price by weight in store!”

Waitrose came out best for prices, which were cheaper for buying loose than packaged. The other supermarkets were as bad as each other and the statistics on prices were mainly hindered by lack of availability of certain products.

All the supermarkets sold more packaged items than loose items.

Emma Bradley from MumsSavvySavings who shopped at Sainsbury’s was shocked at how much cheaper the packaged items were. Emma Drew from EmmaDrew has started to make a conscious effort to cut back on my plastic use, but found that sticking to a grocery budget meant that it isn’t always possible. “I am surprised at how much cheaper pre-packaged foods, with extra plastic, are than the alternatives. I would love to see supermarkets using less plastic, and making what plastic they do use recyclable.

Packaging

So, which supermarket is better at encouraging consumers to buy loose rather than in packaging, where the item was available to buy both loose and packaged? Catherine from The Money Panel feels Waitrose still has a long way to go despite leading in the price of loose compared to packaged. It is still selling many more packaged fruit and vegetables than loose. “As a family we always shop at Waitrose because we love the quality of the food. I do get very frustrated at the amount of packaging I recycle within minutes of unpacking our order. It’s a huge waste.”

The Complaining Cow and Tesco CEOsIt’s not just the fact that consumers buy the packaged items because they are frequently cheaper. It is also wasting food. This is a common criticism from customers who live on their own. Regulars on this blog will know that I have quite a History with Tesco. In September 2016 I interviewed The UK CEO Matt Davies and Group CEO Dave Lewis. I asked about this wasting of food for people living on their own. Last year I interviewed the then new Chief Customer Officer and questioned her on this issue too. She agreed with me and mentioned some of what they were doing. But seems they have a long way to go!

Ruth from RuthmakesMoney, who looked at Marks and Spencer, says “As I’m usually cooking just for myself, I find it hugely frustrating that it’s so often much cheaper and easier to buy a pack of items like peppers rather than buying them individually. It sometimes feels like waste is inevitable. I’d love to see supermarkets offering more items in smaller quantities, whilst cutting down on unnecessary packaging.”

Co-Op packaged and loose tomatoes "supermarkets under the spotlight packaged items cheaper than loose"

Supermarkets comments

All the supermarkets were asked to comment on our findings:

Morrisons said “It’s not an easy issue as the plastic on fruit and veg also has the function of preserving it and avoiding food waste. We’re working through it” and  referred me to their statement on packaging.

Marks and Spencer said “On what M&S is doing on packaging and waste, we have a number of commitments and initiatives under way in these areas. (More details on their site).

Aldi commented “Aldi’s model is based on simplicity and efficiency, which creates operational cost savings which are passed on to customers in the form of low prices. Aldi does not have scales in its stores and loose fruit and veg is priced per item. Customers can purchase some of Aldi’s best-selling fruit and veg lines (by volume) in loose form including bananas, potatoes and peppers. Earlier this year Aldi announced a comprehensive plan to reduce plastic, including a commitment that all packaging on its own-label products will be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2022”

Sainsbury’s said “We’re focused on offering our customers choice, quality and value. We will offer fruit and veg without packaging where we can, as long as it doesn’t compromise the quality and shelf life of the product. We’re also committed to ensuring our packaging is as recyclable as it can be and are one of few retailers to invest in recycling facilities at many of our supermarkets. In addition, we’re a member of the UK Plastics Pact and have committed to meeting collective targets by 2025.” (More details on their website).

Our colleagues also allow customers to use their own containers. As our colleagues explained in store, before we transfer the product to a customer’s container, we use a small amount of plastic to weigh and transfer the items for safety reasons.”

The Daily Mail asked the supermarkets for comment. Many of them said that the research wasn’t comparing like with like because some products were bigger than others! This is twaddle. Items were compared by weight! The reason I asked the bloggers to weigh everything was so that it WAS a fair comparison. (Rolling eyes emoticon!)

Lidl, get this, apparently said that they sell red peppers loose and the packaged ones were different colours! The price of a red pepper? 59p Pack of three coloured peppers? 95p So they are actually saying that a yellow or green pepper would be half the price of a red one?! They were all the same price in every other supermarket! Clutching at straws? And I don’t suppose they are environmentally friendly ones either!

 The most bizarre of all?

Paper bag with carrots, parsnips and broccoli and the plastic bags that were added

 

This week I had my Tesco order delivered. In my order were parsnips, cauliflower, carrots and onions. Tesco uses brown recyclable bags for fruit and veg. For no apparent reason, they were all put into separate plastic bags inside the brown paper bag. I cannot fathom why? Any suggestions?

 

 

 

So what can be done?

In January of this year, Theresa May committed to the UK eliminating avoidable plastic waste by 2042. This target, more than a generation away, has been widely criticised by environmental groups as “lacking urgency”. UK supermarkets still pay less for collecting and recycling their plastic waste than in any other European country! Tax payers pick up 90% of the costs.

Most of the supermarkets have signed up to a voluntary pact, whose promises include removing “problematic or unnecessary” single-use plastic by 2025, making 100% of plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable, with 70% effectively recycled or composted and all plastic packaging to include 30% average recycled content. None of this is enforceable.

In March of this year the world’s first “plastic-free” aisle opened in the Netherlands. Launched by the Dutch chain Ekoplaza in Amsterdam, the aisle will offer over 700 products with no plastic packaging. UK consumers and campaigners are calling for UK supermarkets here to do the same, but no supermarket has agreed to do this yet. It appears to be consumer pressure that gets thing moving in the industry. It is therefore up to us, as consumers, to keep up that pressure and get the change that’s so clearly needed.

If you want to contact a CEO to tell them what you think of their policies you can find their contact detail on ceoemail.com.

 

 

7 consumer rights misconceptions (and what they are really)

One hears it often “I know my rights” But do you? Here are the most common misconceptions.

Consumer rights misconceptions list of headings

1) I received the wrong item, unsolicited goods I can keep them!
No, you can’t.  See  All you need to know about unsolicited goods. I actually stopped comments on this post because despite it clearly stating all the things that are not unsolicited good people were desperate for me to tell them that their case was different! Only one example was unsolicited and that was an item from Estonia! If you have received an item by mistake it is NOT unsolicited goods and you need to take reasonable steps to ensure that the item is returned at no cost to you. (More advice in that post).

2) It was marked at that price so I can have it at that price!
Nope. Quite simply any price tag is an “invite to treat.” There have been some high profile case such as the Harrods handbag story Christmas 2017. If however, you have bought it at said price and have received a confirmation then you have entered a contract and then the trader must honour the price otherwise in breach of the Consumers Rights Act 2015.  If the trader has specifically advertised it at one price and then won’t honour it would be breach of  the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (amended 2014).

3) It’s the manufacturers’ fault
That’s as maybe but it isn’t the manufacturer to whom you send the faulty item. In fact it’s a very common fob off from retailers. Your contract is always with the retailer to whom you gave the money. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 applies. Within 30 days of purchase you are entitled to a full refund. After this time a repair of replacement. The retailer may say you should send off for a repair. Don’t accept this. You’ll be paying postage! Always remember contract is with retailer.

4) My item is under warranty so I have to use that and send it to the manufacturer though?
Warranties are like insurance they are rarely better than your consumer rights. The only time a warranty may help is when the item is older than 6 months. This is because although your rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 remain, the only difference is that after 6 months from point of purchase the onus is on the customer to prove that the fault was there when they bought the item. You could still do this. Complain to the retailer and take the case to the relevant ADR scheme if there is one for the retailer who is likely to undertake an independent report at the cost to the retailer. If you want to be quicker and/or are unsure that the fault was there at point of purchase then you could use it. Some brands on specialist items do have really long warranties/guarantees so keep the paperwork for these!

5) I’ve only had my item two months, the store has to give me a refund
It doesn’t actually. Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 you are entitled to goods and services that are fit for purpose, of satisfactory quality, as described and last a reasonable length of time. However, after 30 days from point of purchase the retailer can offer a refund or repair. They must give a refund before 30 days.

  1. 6) I have the packaging and I know when I bought it from what store so I should get redress for my faulty item
  2. This is a common misconception. People hear that they don’t need a receipt but don’t always hear the second part! You don’t need a receipt but you DO need a proof of purchase, so this could be a credit card bill statement where a store can trace the transaction.
  1. 7) The jumper doesn’t fit the trader has to give me my money back.
  2. Sadly not. This is considered a “change of mind” and it is down to the goodwill of the company. If there’s nothing wrong with the item and it’s as described you  will have to see the store’s terms and conditions.However. If the item was bought online you do have more rights. You have a 14 day cooling off period. You may have to pay return postage costs if there is nothing wrong with the item. For more on online rights see Your Rights, Mail Order, Online and Deliveries.For more about unwanted purchases and gifts see What to do with the ghost of Christmas Present?

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

For more information, guidance, tips, consumer rights and template letters GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 ways how not to use Twitter to complain (and 5 ways how you should)

The twitter symbol How not to complain on TwitterI hear all the time from people that they have successfully complained because they have used social media. Occasionally if used in the right way, your complaint is simple, the trader has a good social media team and the wind is in the right direction this may be the case. Used in the right way it can be a good tool to name and shame and speed things up but that’s the limit as in the end you will still need to provide all the details off the public forum which is as good as sending an email in the first place. So what are the no nos?

1) A rant is not an effective complaint. Don’t get me wrong, I can rant for England and if ever there was an Olympics for ranting I’d be there. I will name and shame where it’s genuine too, it’s good for a laugh if nothing else. But it isn’t a complaint. It isn’t going to get you redress. Sometimes the company will respond sometimes they won’t. If you carry on ranting it’s the same as shouting, it’s not going to get you anywhere. It’s pointless and frankly very few people, if anyone is taking any notice of your rants. Why? Because social media is full of them and it’s boring. Remember I rant for England, but you’ll notice my rants are after I’ve effectively got my redress or just a rant for rant’s sake because I want to get it out of my head and I feel better then! So if you want to rant and it makes you feel better, do it, don’t expect anything significant from it though ‘cos no one cares. Think – how many times have you ever really joined in or contributed to someone else’s rant?

2) Personal information. I was in a meeting the other week with some people from a few financial institutions and other consumer organisations looking at complaints handling (trust me 3 hours we only scraped the surface!) but I was asked by a senior executive of a very large financial institution what I thought about complaining on social media. I said it drove me nuts. It isn’t the place to effectively sort out complicated issues and it certainly isn’t the place to be trying to resolve financial products. He agreed saying that they have a problem with people giving out personal details. They are far less worried about you saying “oi @xyzbank your service stinks” than you being very polite and then giving your age, your address and your policy numbers openly! You are opening yourself up to fraud on your account to say nothing of identity theft.

3) Hashtags. Really? Must you? Inventing your own? Unless you have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers who are all going to rt you why are you bothering? Who is going to look? Who is going to care? Perhaps find and use a hashtag so your tweets come up as one of many,  but think about it, how often do you look up a hashtag that you don’t know exactly what it is for and join in?!

4) Keeping on. Now, I know I say if you aren’t happy go back until you are, but that’s when you have written your email outlining exactly what you want. I can keep going for as long as it takes going through customer services, the CEO, ombudsmen, the court, whatever, but not on Twitter or Facebook! I have been known to have a conversation or two with Virgin Media on Twitter. But that’s because I simply had a query that I wanted to do online and they were thoroughly obtuse. Only answering within certain times of the day and stuff! So I ended up having a conversation complaining about their stupid systems and their responses which had nothing to do with the initial enquiry anyway! (Now, see? I could rant forever and a day about the telecoms sector! But if you could too but actually want to get anything resolved see All you need to know about complaining to telecom providers) So where was I? Ah yes probably proving my point about not ranting in the last few sentences. If the company has not responded to two of your tweets or you haven’t been asked to send details about the complaint via their processes/email/private message then stop. Either you haven’t made yourself clear or they are useless at dealing with complaints on social media. Whatever the reason you are now wasting your time. No one is listening and you are being ineffective. Stop.

5) Copying in consumer people and organisations. I’m afraid I am unable to pick up people’s tweets and do their complaints for them. How can I possibly without all the information? And see Contact for more on what I can and can’t do). Imagine if I picked up or commented on everyone who follows me tweeted their complaints! I’d do nothing else! So how can the big guys, Watchdog, Rip Off, Dom Littlewood, MSE all do it? They can’t and won’t it just isn’t possible. Nor is it fair to pick up one tweet and not another, your complaint is not unique I promise you! (Have the manners to tweet me personally and I’ll direct you to the relevant page on my blog though!) If I can’t do it with only about 10k followers (plus the people who don’t even follow me, yet expect me to do something!) how on earth could the big organisations/media do it? It will not make the company any more likely to deal with your complaint because they know that anyone you have copied in will not get involved. Don’t waste the characters!

Good examples of how to use Twitter to complain.

1) Quick stuff. This is where the company has your bank details and can refund you. E.g. @tesco here is a pic of the rotten tomatoes that came in my delivery please refund. Appropriate response? “Sorry to hear that, please dm us your order number email and mailing adds., will reimburse.”

Complaining using Twitter various pics of supermarket goods with tweets about cracked eggs, rotten grapes and tomatoes

2) Where you have not had a reply to a written complaint e.g. “@virginmedia wrote to you on (date) not had reply please investigate”. Appropriate (but possibly unlikely here because Virgin is so utterly useless) response “Sorry to hear that please dm your name, add, and account number and we will look into this.” Then follow up in the dm with the required details and give deadline for wanting response.

3) When you don’t know where to send your complaint e.g. “@anytelecomco I have a complaint I want to email you but there is no email address please provide”. Appropriate response (from most companies but few if any telecoms)  “here it is …” you have the choice of carrying on arguing pointlessly, or to use ceoemail.com and write to the CEO and add to your complaint that if their site provided an email address instead of whatever way they have tried to make you contact them it would be a lot better!

4) Part query, part complaint e.g.”@traincompany 5.40 to London delayed no information being given at all please advise”. Appropriate response (most cases) “due to xxx next train will be at yyyyy” or similar.

5) Query turning into complaint about fob off! E.g. “@retailer my order hasn’t been delivered”. Appropriate response “Please dm us your order number, name and address and we will investigate for you.” If fobbed off say “@retailer no, under Consumer Rights Act 2015 my contract is with you. Pls follow so can send you details for you to investigate”. (For more on your rights regarding deliveries see Your Rights, Mail Order, Online and Deliveries.

If you don’t get the appropriate responses do not waste your time continuing with social media. You are not succeeding.

See Top 20 Tips How to Complain! for complaining effectively.

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

For effective complaining information, guidance consumer laws, rights and template letters to ensure you get the redress to which you are entitled, GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

Your rights and how to complain about ferries and cruises

Ferries/cruises
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 was applied to ferries from 1st October 2016. You are now entitled to services carried out with reasonable skill and care. If they are not then you should be able to gain redress.

If your ferry service is cancelled or departure is delayed for more than 90 minutes, you are entitled to either an alternative sailing at the earliest opportunity at no additional cost or reimbursement of the ticket price which should be paid within seven days. If you choose an alternative crossing, you’re still entitled to claim compensation for the delay to your original journey.

While you wait (when delayed for more than 90 minutes or it is expected to be cancelled) you are entitled to meals and refreshments if they can be reasonably supplied even if the reason is bad weather.

If an overnight stay is required due to the delay/cancellation then the ferry or cruise operator must offer you accommodation free of charge, if possible. This can be on board or ashore.

Your ferry company can offer alternatives such as permitting you to make your own separate plans to travel and reimburse your expenses. No overnight accommodation has to be offered or costs reimbursed if the delay is caused by weather conditions endangering the safe operation of the ship.

For all things complaining holidays see All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights

For more advice, tips and templates for complaining  see GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

Fake Farms – A bad country smell that won’t go away…

You might remember a story about Tesco “fake farms” from March? Tesco launched a series of new “farm” ranges. It was widely reported that people felt duped into thinking that a) they were real farms where the products were coming from and b) that they were buying British. I went about doing some more research and challenged Tesco CEO Dave Lewis several times on the matter on this issue. Some of these farms were similar sounding to existing farms too. I mean really similar!

Tesco Name  – Woodside Farms    

Woodside Farm (Derbyshire)
Woodside Farm (Bedfordshire)
Woodside Farm (Nottingham b & b)
Woodside Farm (Nottingham)
Woodside Farm (Cork)

Tesco Name  – Willow Farms 
Willows Farm (Skegness)
Willow Farm (Hertfordshire)

Tesco Name  – Boswell Farms
Boswell Farm  (Devon)

Unique
Suntrail Farms
Rosedene Farms
Redmere Farms
Nightingale farms

One even has the same name!

Woodside Farms is in Jersey and you know what? It even sells to supplying the Co-op and Waitrose in Jersey and Guernsey it is also available in SandpiperCI group food stores, including Iceland, in both Jersey and Guernsey. So, not only has Tesco used names similar to those that exist, it has also used the exact name of a farm that actually supplies to three supermarkets. I asked the Tesco CEO to comment on this but bizarrely he as yet has failed to provide any.

Woodside Farm in Cork was keen to let people know that they were nothing to do with supplying Tesco, tweeting, for example;

Fake farms Tesco

People expressed their displeasure with the marketing ploy:

Tesco fake farm tweet

Others showed their displeasure with irony and humour:

Fake farm Tesco post by The Complaining Cow

Farms took to Twitter to show how they feel insulted:

Fake farm tesco post by Helen Dewdney

Matt Simister Commercial Director
On You and Yours on the 6th July 2016 Tesco said that 2/3 of customers have tried the range but this doesn’t mean that they understood that the brand was not necessarily British. On the programme customers spoke of how they felt misled. One person spoke about how she bought some Rosedene strawberries and saw that they were British and deliberately bought Rosedene apples thinking that they would also be British, believing Rosedene to be a British farm. However, the Rosedene apples were grown in South Africa. And what of the other third of Tesco customers? Another spoke of her disappointment at not being able to buy British, particularly when Tesco had clearly chosen British sounding farm names.

Matt Simister, Commercial Director, Fresh Food and Commodities said that most of the produce comes seasonally from the UK but goes overseas when out of season or not grown in the UK. When asked what proportion comes from the UK, he was unable to answer the question.

He also said that sales were really good and have stayed good and didn’t answer Winifred Robinson’s question regarding whether they would make any changes given the feedback for customers, choosing instead to focus on quality that customers can trust…

A challenge to the Tesco CEO

The Complaining Cow asks Tesco Dave Lewis about fake farms
I decided to challenge Tesco CEO, Dave Lewis, on this (See Tesco history – this isn’t the first time 🙂  and so wrote to him several times on the issue. I had to return to the matter several times as I didn’t find his replies satisfactory. The points raised were:

1) Believing that the labelling is a breach of Regulation 5 of the Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regs (misleading action) which is an offence under Regulation 9. By default it is also a breach of Regulation 3 (professional diligence) which is an offence under Regulation 8.

What matters under Reg 5 is not whether it is factually correct, but it is the overall impression that counts. Misleading practices – through the information the practice contains or its deceptive presentation, it causes, or is likely to cause, the average consumer to take a different transactional decision. A breach of this Act is a £5000 fine and/or imprisonment for each breach. It also causes what’s called a ‘community infringement’ which means Trading Standards can hit a trader with Part 8 of the Enterprise Act (Enforcement Orders) which means that even if a trader gets a hefty fine under CPUTRs then they could also get an Enforcement Order against them and they can go to prison for longer than under a prosecution.

2) Whilst I may want to buy tomatoes all year round, I don’t want to believe that I am buying from a British farm when I am not. It may well say the country of origin but in far bigger, more noticeable letters is the name “Woodside Farms” or one of the other names. One could argue that one only starts to look at country or origin if they doubt the labelling. So there you have it, people trust the British farm-sounding label as a British farm or they already don’t trust Tesco and look to the country of origin! And why is the animal being reared in Holland and slaughtered in Germany anyway?

3) I do not believe that this is Tesco being transparent. It is marketing and whether customers know that or not they don’t like it.

4) What happened to due diligence? Surely, that would have highlighted that there were farms with very similar and in one case exactly the same names?

5) How much does Tesco pay Trading Standards for the advice it provides (could it be possible that Trading Standards won’t prosecute a company which is paying it?)

Dave Lewis response
Well, there were 3 of them (told you I kept going back to him! Well he did tell me a couple of years ago to keep complaining it was the only way Tesco would improve!) But the main points here were:

1) “This all comes back to the wider point that good marketing can polarise opinion. We’ve seen the debate, and understand it, but the most important thing for us is what customers think. That’s why we developed the new brands with customers in mind, and we continue to listen to them now”.

2) “While they told us that they understood that a single farm couldn’t possibly supply Tesco, they did say it was important that we work in partnership with growers and farmers who stick to strict quality standards. We do, and when the market was updated in May, I said that more than 95% of the commentary from customers has been neutral or positive about the action they’ve taken. The country of origin is clearly labelled on all the products and we’re completely transparent about where the products come from.”

3) “In addition to listening to customers, we completed legal due diligence on the brand names in relation to intellectual property, as you’d expect.”

4) “Thanks also for your comments on our Woodside Farms brand. As with all our seven new brands, this is a brand rather than a business, and this particular brand is focused on providing customers with great quality, affordable pork products. As above, we did due diligence for this brand.”

5) “We named our brands to represent the quality of our fresh food and history of working closely with suppliers, not after existing farms. Hertfordshire Trading Standards – charges on a cost recovery basis for advice given, which is a typical way for them to fund this service.” They don’t believe we are misleading consumers in relation to their purchasing decision on these brands.”

6) “The wider point here is that creating brands in this way is not at all uncommon in food marketing. Some of the UK’s most iconic and popular food brands have been created in a similar way. Customers do completely understand this – they are much more marketing literate than they’re given credit for. My experience of Tesco customers is that they are among the most savvy in Britain – and they do understand that all the products come from farms.”

Update 15/09/16 Then I asked him again in an interview: (see The Complaining Cow interviews Tesco bosses for more details and full interview)

So clearly, Tesco see the whole thing as acceptable marketing despite the public and media reports on the lack of transparency and it being misleading. Is it patronising to customers who do just accept it and/or insulting to those feel they are misled to say that they are “among the most savvy in Britain”? I might well understand that it is from a farm but I still don’t like the way it is misleading thank you very much.

Advertising Standards Authority
Their response was simply “I’m sorry to tell you that despite receiving a few complaints about this issue we are not entitled to deal with complaints of this nature because it relates to material that is not covered by the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising Practice, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing.

We would consider this to constitute the labelling on a product, and as you can see from section II – m of the Code on our website, our remit does not cover labels or packaging.”

National Farmers Union
According to Tesco and other supermarkets using fake farm brands spark complaint from NFU in The Independent 19/07/16  three in five people who said they believed such products were “definitely” or “probably” British admitted that they would feel misled if they were informed that it came from overseas, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by the NFU. In a survey in the Independent readers were asked “Do you mind that Tesco uses fictitious farms in its branding?” 82% said “Yes it’s misleading.“

The NFU has taken its complaints to national Trading Standards. However I have also already done that and the response showed that it was going to do little to address the issue, so it will be interesting to see if the NFU get the same response.

Trading Standards Response
“I think that whilst I can see that there is controversy, the retailer in cases such as this could rely on the label names being brands as opposed to them being illustrative of geographical locations.

These labels they say ‘farm’. The origin of the products is likely to have been a farm. They refer to fictional named farms, and I can see that some assert that this misleads because it gives the impression that the farm sounds British. I think this is the central issue but I think it would be difficult to persuade a judge that these fictional names suggest a clear geographical origin to the purchaser (especially when on the same small label, the country of production is included).

If the label had said Essex Farms or Wiltshire Farms or some other name linked to a geographical location then perhaps it would be worth examining”.

Update 20/12/16 Tesco on track to increase fake farms

So what do you think? Misleading? Think items are British? Now you know many aren’t will you still buy? Do you buy because the quality and value is good but you still don’t like the ethics?

I look forward to hearing your views!

You can contact the UK Tesco CEO or Group CEO here

History with Tesco links to all the posts over the last few years where I have complained, taken them to court, met With Dave Lewis..

For the full interview see The Complaining Cow interviews Dave Lewis & Matt Davies.