19 April 2017

Asda reignites row over ‘farm’ brands by relaunching value range

The supermarket chain Asda has relaunched its value Smart Price food range as Farm Stores, reigniting the row about retailers’ controversial use of “fake farm” brands to sell products. Asda, which pledged to replace the Smart Price branded products completely by 2018, has recently reintroduced the Farm Stores label for both meat and fresh produce after dropping it in 2001. UK farming organisations – which last year criticised Tesco’s introduction of a budget range of own-label “farm” brands – dismissed the latest marketing drive as misleading for consumers and insulting for farmers.

But an Asda spokeswoman said: “We know how important quality produce at a great price is to our customers. We’re reconnecting with our heritage by bringing back the Farm Stores brand to Asda – a name that our customers remember and trust for great value quality produce.”

Ruth Mason, chief food chain adviser at the National Farmers Union, said: “Although such rebrands can drive an uplift in sales, in our view it is important that product names and descriptions are clear, accurate and do not mislead consumers. With Asda now using the term ‘farm’ within its branding, it is imperative that the origin of these products is clear to customers.”

In March 2016 Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer, sparked controversy after launching seven brands – including “Woodside Farms” and “Boswell Farms” – based on British-sounding but fictitious names as part of its commercial fightback against the discounters Aldi and Lidl. Some of the foods were imported from overseas and given British names to make them sound local. Tesco will on Wednesday reassure investors that its crisis years are over by reporting a larger-than-expected jump in annual profits. It has won back disillusioned shoppers by focusing on lower prices – with the new farm brands key to a significant sales uplift.

Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, called the latest move “disgraceful” and said Asda and other retailers should instead focus on increasing the amount British food they stocked. ‘The use of fake farm names or branding is misleading for consumers and insulting to farmers,” he said. “Many hard-pressed customers, trying to do their shopping in a hurry, are likely to be misled into thinking they’re buying a product from a specific British farm when they are not.”

In July the NFU referred Tesco’s “fake farm” branding to national trading standards for investigation, but the complicated regulatory structure meant it had to be dealt with by a local trading standards office in Hertfordshire because of Tesco’s head office being in Welwyn Garden City.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has since asked lead authorities – county trading standards offices – to draw to the attention of all food businesses the relevant legal provisions regarding origin labelling.

Credit to: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/apr/12/asda-farm-value-range-tesco-farmers