NFU Issues Formal Complaint Over Supermarket’s Use Of ‘Fake’ Farm Branding

The NFU has formally complained to Trading Standards over the use of ‘fake’ farm branding by supermarkets on some food products, citing Tesco as a prime example.

The farmers union said it was responding to concerns expressed by its members that the use of ‘fake’ farm labels could be misleading for shoppers resulting in them being at risk of mistakenly buying a product that differs from the product they thought they were buying.  It cited Tesco’s recent high profile introduction of brand names such as ‘Woodside Farms’ and ‘Boswell Farms’ on a range of value-oriented meat and fresh produce lines.  The NFU claims that using such names could make consumers believe they are buying goods farmed in the UK, where as in some cases they are imported from overseas.

In a YouGov survey commissioned by the NFU, three in five respondents said these farm products in their view were ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ British and would feel misled if this was not the case and were told that the product could be from another country.

NFU President Meurig Raymond said: “The NFU’s legal team has looked at this carefully and as a result we are asking Trading Standards Institute to look at whether ‘fake’ farm branding complies with the relevant legal requirements.

“I have spoken to senior management at Tesco to highlight our members concerns about the use of these fake farm brands.  I urge all retailers to consider seriously the results of our survey which show that mixing imported product with British product under the same fictional farm name can be misleading to many of their customers.  I am pleased that Aldi has now made a commitment to only source British product in their fictional farm brands by the end of March 2017.

“British farming is proud of its high standards and the NFU would be delighted to work with retailers to ensure that customers are given clear and unambiguous information about where their food comes from.”

NFU Cymru President Stephen James, added: “These fake farm brands are completely unacceptable and we believe are misleading consumers. This practice has been going on across the retail sector for a long time and enough is enough.

“In particular, NFU members feel the brands confuse shoppers about the country of origin of the food products in question.  Country of origin labelling is important because we know from consumer surveys that shoppers want to buy British food products; clearly, consumers cannot exercise that choice without clear country of origin labelling.

“That’s why we have now written to Trading Standards to argue our point and to ask for clear guidelines for retailers on the clarity of country of origin labelling.”

Along with its first quarter trading statement last month, Tesco hailed the success of its seven new ‘Farms’ fresh food brands which are aimed at attracting shoppers back from the discounters. The group said that two thirds of its customers have now bought products from the new ranges with customer satisfaction scores said to be “exceptionally high”.  The retailer has defended the use of fictional farm names, saying that its customers would be aware, given its size, it could not possibly source all its products from individual farms.

NAM Implications:
  • Another ‘letter vs spirit of law’ issue
  • What matters is consumers’ perception created by the brand-label, apparently –according to the survey – an assumption that British farm = local sourcing
  • Trading standards ‘forcing’ the retailer to include country of origin misses the point
  • Far more effective if Aldi/Lidl state and deliver local sourcing in their versions of ‘farm brand’…