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
Tesco Name – Boswell Farms
Boswell Farm (Devon)
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;
People expressed their displeasure with the marketing ploy:
Others showed their displeasure with irony and humour:
Farms took to Twitter to show how they feel insulted:
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
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.