THE LURE OF FICTIONAL FARMS
Supermarket own brands or 'generic' brands have several attractive qualities to consumers, the primary one being the lower price than the branded competitors. No one expects a perfect copy, just a close approximation—various biscuits, baking products, bread, pasta—these all have supermarket own versions. However, it is the usage of fictional farms on meat and poultry labelling that has people taking a step back. By having the farm's 'name' on the packaging it makes it seem as if consumers are supporting a local or British farmer when the meat could have been imported from the other side of the world. The label would still legally have to show this, but not in an obvious way—arguably misleading consumers.
Tesco is the latest retailer to be called up on using fictional farm names to market and sell products. The NFU and the Soil Association have accused the retailer of using the names “Woodside”, “Willow” and “Boswell” farms to label meat in a misleading fashion. None of these farms, however British they sound, actually exist. The sources of Tesco's meat are the same as they were when the label simply said 'Tesco' but if it is labelled 'Boswell farms' the consumer is more likely to buy it—they are led to believe it is supporting a British farmer.
Tesco are not the only supermarket to employ brand names in this fashion—both Lidl and Aldi have used a similar tactic in the past. The issue is clear and honest labelling, terms that are not necessarily synonymous. Tesco's labels do show what the country of origin is but it is the marketing and labelling which suggest a domestically sourced product, which is not always the case. The NFU is working with supermarkets to ensure that consumers are not deliberately hoodwinked by retailers. In the wake of various food scandals, including the horsemeat scandal of previous years and the issues surrounding campylobacter in chickens, consumers need to know the source of their food more than ever.
With the coming referendum over EU membership, Britain has to figure out exactly how it will source its food in a changing marketplace. We need to preserve the rich farming history of this country and supermarkets can play a huge part in making sure that happens. A perfect compromise of price and domestic sourcing can be achieved, but not if supermarkets are going to play tricks with branding.
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