Farming News - Tesco faces legal threat over “fake farm” names

Tesco faces legal threat over “fake farm” names

Farmers and campaigners have joined forces to call for major supermarkets, including Tesco, Aldi and Lidl, to stop using ‘ fake farm’ branding on their meat products.

The disgruntled owner of a real farm called Woodside Farm – a name shared with Tesco’s value pork range since 201 6 – has joined with food and environment charity Feedback to threaten legal proceedings if the retail giant doesn’t stop using the name Woodside Farms to sell its products .

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Richard Baugh, of Woodside Farm in Nottinghamshire, raises free - range pigs for high quality pork products which he sells under his farm name through his own farm shop and website. But since 2016, when Tesco replaced their ‘Tesco Value’ brand with names like ‘Woodside Farms’ which have nothing to do with where the meat came from, he’s faced confusion from customers demanding if he supplies Tesco :

“We’ve been raising pigs at Woodside Farm for 20 years – this is our livelihood. 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”

Feedback wrote to Tesco on behalf of Mr Baugh, highlighting the risk that their labelling risks both profiting from their use of Mr Baugh’s farm name and reputation, and misleading consumers about the origins of their meat. In their response, Tesco focused on the popularity of the brands with shoppers. The farmer and charity await a response to their follow up letter, pointing out to Tesco that the popularity of the brand means that large numbers of shoppers could be being misled and asking them to reconsider their position.

Feedback 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.

“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 . ”

Feedback have awarded Tesco a ‘Total Bull’ award for their enthusiastic defence of their range of fake farm labels, which cover beef, chicken and pork as well as some fresh produce lines. The charity is calling on customers to write to Tesco’s CEO, Dave Lewis, asking him to drop the labelling. Total Bull awards are given where , in the opinion of Feedback , a company has made use of misleading statements or labelling which could lead consumers to draw conclusions as to the product which may not be correct. These issues are a matter of significant public interest and importance.

Tesco are not the only supermarkets to use made up farm names in their branding. Other fake farm ranges include Asda’s ‘Farm Stores’, which features an old - fashioned barn and tractor on the label, Lidl’s ‘Birchwood Farm’ meat range (which is marketed as ‘Strathvale Farm’ in Scotland), Aldi’s ‘Ashfield Farm’ and Marks and Spencer’s ‘Oakham’ chicken (below). Feedback has also written to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, asking him to tighten laws on food labelling to prevent this practice across all supermarkets .

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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.”

Despite Tesco’s choice of very British - sounding names, the retailer’s website acknowledges that not all of the meat sold in their Woodside Farms pork range will have come from UK farms. Even for meats which are sourced from UK farms, such as ‘Willow Farms’ chicken, some meat may have been produced under conditions very far from those implied by their labels, in the growing number of mega - farms invading the UK’s countryside , many of which are reported to supply Tesco.

Roger Sharpley, owner of Boswell Farm, whose name is aped by Tesco’s ‘Boswell Farms’ beef labels, said:

“It’s an abuse of power. Supermarkets like Tesco have a huge amount of power over producers, especially the smaller ones, and they think they can get away with a trick like this. Even if it isn’t strictly illegal, they’re trying to conjure up an image of something that isn’t the reality. And you can bet that if the boot was on the other foot Tesco’s lawyers would be all over it.”

The National Farmers’ Union and the Soil Association have also condemned fake farm brands.

Tesco has told the Guardian that it was aware of the threat of legal action but declined to comment.