Behind the Headlines: Tesco’s farm fudge

The supermarket’s refresh of its fresh produce ranges using ‘fake’ farms has left a sour taste, but it won’t last for long, says David Burrows.

Poor old Tesco: just when it seems to have come up with a decent idea, the media throws it back in its face. More than 70 lines of fruit, veg, poultry, pork and beef have been revamped under seven new “farm” brands. These include Redmere Farms for veg, Rosedene Farms for fruits and Boswell Farms, which look after the beef. Trouble is – none of them exist.

The story was almost too good to be true – especially for those who enjoy a little Twitter-based Tesco-bashing. “Aren’t real farms good enough?” tweeted @systems4food. “We live in a land where real farms go bust so @Tesco can invent fake ones,” screamed @JHallHDI. “Doesn’t Tesco want its brand to be trustable again?” wrote @tarabluesky.

The critics do have a point. Some suggested the move has risk written all over it given the emphasis on provenance and transparency. Tesco’s announcement coincided with the first ever assessment of food crime in the UK, as well as figures from Mintel’s 2016 shopper survey showing that 55% of Brits want to buy British whenever they can.

“This feels a little out of step with current trends in consumer attitudes, which seem to be shifting towards authenticity, and understanding where food comes from,” said Nick Lee, a professor of marketing at Warwick business school.

Having said that, Mintel found that 45% feel British goods are more expensive than imported ones, and only a third are happy to pay the premium. For this reason, experts like Lee doubt whether the social media outrage will cause people to shop elsewhere.

Planet Retail’s David Gray is also sceptical. Tesco’s refresh is all about driving people into the store, he said. More appealing packaging and far more attractive price points (Rosedene’s blueberries are, at the time of writing, half the price of the equivalent Tesco value product, while Redmere’s parsnips were also a snip at 54p versus the own label bag at 90p) could lead them to leave their ethics at the door.

Not that Tesco has done anything wrong. It has really “stolen” this idea from the discounters, said Gray. “Why is it OK for Aldi and Lidl to do it and not Tesco?” It’s because big targets often make easy targets, he added.

“My view is that it is just a brand,” explained Dominic Watkins, a partner at law firm DWF. “Provided that it does not suggest or imply a particular geographical origin that would mislead the consumer then it should not be misleading.”

Others tend to agree. “It’s just a name, just a brand name,” retail consultant Alison Pike told Marketing magazine. “They could use the name of a real farm – but would the customer know? No.”

But now many more consumers do know that Tesco’s farm brands are fudged. Whether they really care remains to be seen.

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