Tesco has been criticised and threatened with legal action over its use of “fake farm” names on meat products.
Campaign group Feedback said Tesco's use of farm names on products was “encouraging consumers to believe that the meat is sourced from small-scale producers”.
Other UK supermarkets carry out the practice but Tesco has been singled out by Feedback for its “Total Bull” award because it uses the most “fake farms”, including Woodside Farms.
Feedback said the owner of the real Woodside Farm in Nottinghamshire was threatening legal proceedings if Tesco does not stop using the Woodside Farms name.
Campaign director Jessica Sinclair Taylor said: “Let’s be clear – supermarkets are selling meat under fake farm names, deliberately encouraging consumers to believe that the meat is sourced from small-scale producers. We believe this is peddling a load of bull. For all shoppers know, behind the bucolic mirage could lie a high-intensity, unsustainable mega farm.”
Feedback said its campaign was also targeting Aldi, which uses the name Ashfield Farm, Lidl (Birchwood Farm), Marks and Spencer (Oakham), and Asda (Farm Stores).
Feedback said Tesco had responded to a letter by saying: “We launched our seven fresh food brands eighteen months ago, and since then the brands have proved extremely popular with customers, regularly appearing in 70% of our customers’ shopping baskets.”
Sinclair Taylor said: “To say these labels are popular is no defence of what Tesco and other supermarkets are doing – they’re popular because people understandably like the image of small-scale, local animal husbandry that farms like the real Woodside Farm represent.
“Tesco is passing off this identity as that of their own products, while actually sourcing their meat from farms of all kinds, including some mega-farms and some outside the UK. It’s shameful that Tesco continues to ignore the protests of farmers, while profiting off the back of their reputations. That’s why we’ve awarded Tesco our first Total Bull award.”
Richard Baugh, of Woodside Farm, said: “When it first came out customers were asking all the time whether we were supplying Tesco. Of course we don’t, our pork is free-range – we think it’s higher welfare and quality than the pork they’re selling, and we’re proud of that. It isn’t fair that they profit from the associations that come with our farm name. Tesco think because they’re big and we’re small they can walk all over us.”
Isabelle Szmigin, professor of marketing at Birmingham University, said: “Labelling like this is, in my view, a real problem. By using farm names and images to conjure, very subtly, the idea of a bucolic farming idyll in their customers’ minds, the supermarkets are using effective marketing techniques to sell products on the basis of attributes they don’t possess. The key attribute of low-cost meat is its price – not a fiction about its farm origins.”
Tesco has not responded to an SM request for comment.