The row over Tesco’s introduction of seven apparently “misleading” Farms brands has taken another somewhat ridiculous turn.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has officially referred the grocer to trading standards over its use of seven Farms brands across its entry level fruit, veg, poultry and meat ranges, claiming that the fictitious names could make customers believe they are buying produce farmed in the UK.

According to a YouGov survey commissioned by the NFU, three in five people who believed Tesco’s farm-branded products were “definitely” or “probably” British admitted that they would feel misled if they were informed the product came from outside the UK.

What the NFU failed to mention was exactly how many people thought Tesco’s farm brands were “definitely” or “probably” British. My guess is that it would be a rather small proportion of the 1,796 adults surveyed.

The NFU also left it until the very final sentence of its press release to reveal that only three in 10 shoppers were “unsure” about the provenance of groceries being sold under the name of a fake farm.

That latter figure more accurately sums up the modern day British shopper.

Insulting to consumers

So much is spoken about savvy consumers in this country. Shoppers have arguably never been blessed with so much choice, such a keen eye for value or more detailed knowledge on the provenance of their groceries.

To suggest that those same shoppers who care so much about buying British aren’t capable of reading labels displayed prominently on the front of packaging is both contradictory and insulting.

The NFU singles out Tesco’s Woodside Farms brand, which it uses to label pork products from the Netherlands and Denmark, and its beef products sourced from Ireland and sold under the Boswell Farms label, as examples of brands that are capable of “misleading” those same customers – even though countries of origin are displayed clearly on all 76 lines across the Farms range.

Because of that, Tesco will feel it has little to worry about. Indeed, sources close to the supermarket giant said that National Trading Standards were “more than happy” with its branding and clarity of labelling when it launched the seven Farms brands back in March.

Furthermore, surely one of Tesco’s biggest rivals Sainsbury’s is the guiltier party, if you apply the NFU’s questionable logic more widely.

Unfounded objection

Using the NFU criteria for what apparently constitutes “misleading”, doesn’t the grocer’s ‘By Sainsbury’s’ brand not only suggest that fruit, veg and meat products have been cultivated in the UK, but by Sainsbury’s specifically?

Yet, a cursory glance at the clearly printed labelling reveals that ‘By Sainsbury’s’ grapes are imported from Egypt, while some of its bananas are grown in Columbia, for example.

The NFU has seemingly not batted an eyelid at that – and rightly so – despite the fact that the supermarket giant’s entire range of mid-tier own-label goods have been sold under the ‘By Sainsbury’s’ branding since January 2013.

With that in mind, Tesco, as the only retailer directly mentioned in a negative light in the NFU’s press release, has every right to feel aggrieved at being singled out.

  • Luke Tugby is deputy news editor at Retail Week