Tesco threatened with legal action over ‘fake farm’ brand
Published:  14 December, 2017

Retailer Tesco has been threatened with legal action over the use of its ‘Woodside Farm’ branded products, by a farm of the same name. 

Bacon, sausages, and pork chops can all be found in the retailer under the ‘Woodside Farm’ name. However, farmer Richard Baugh of Woodside Farm in Nottinghamshire, said his customers had been left with the impression that he supplies Tesco. 

Baugh, who raises free-range pigs for pork products, has teamed up with global food waste charity Feedback to end the bigger issue of supermarkets misleading customers with fake farm names. If Tesco does not stop using the name Woodside Farms to its advantage, Baugh and Feedback have threatened legal action against the retailer.

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

“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.”

Writing to Tesco on behalf of Baugh, Feedback addressed the issue that the retailer could be profiting from its use of Baugh’s name and reputation, and the popularity of the Tesco brand could lead to customers to be misled, calling for its position to be reconsidered.

“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,” said Feedback campaign director Jessica Sinclair Taylor.

“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 is urging customers to stand in solidarity and write to Tesco, asking it to drop the label.

Taylor added: “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 its own products, while actually sourcing its 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.”

Value and quality certifier

While Tesco did not provide any comment on the Baugh dispute when asked by Meat Trades Journal, it did send a link to a September 2016 video in which Tesco CEO Dave Lewis defended the farm brand, adding that it was created with customers and symbolised value and quality that is guaranteed every time.

He said: “The performance of the farm brands has been fantastic. Customers’ feedback to them has been that they appreciate the quality and the value. Sales have been great and we have had no real customer feedback that is anything other than positive for what it is we’ve done in creating those brands. We’ve been very open about the fact that we’re creating new brands.”

Indeed, Tesco has been on an upward trajectory. Its interim results for the first half of 2017/2018 showed that group sales were £25.2 billion (bn), up from £24.4bn year-on-year. For the 12 weeks up to 3 December 2017, figures from Kantar Worldpanel showed that Tesco was the fastest-growing of the ‘Big Four’ retailers, with sales up 2.5% year-on-year and, with a market share of 28.2%, it remained the most visited retailer in Britain for the time period.

‘A real problem’

While Tesco may be bearing the brunt of Feedback’s tirade, the ‘fake farm’ trend has extended to other retailers. Asda has introduced a ‘Farm Stores’ range, Lidl a ‘Birchwood Farm’ meat range, Aldi an ‘Ashfield Farm’ brand, and Marks & Spencer an ‘Oakham’ chicken option.

Feedback has even written to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, urging him to enforce stricter legislation on food labelling to prevent this practice spreading further.

“Labelling like this is, in my view, a real problem,” commented Isabelle Szmigin, professor of marketing at Birmingham University.

“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.”

A spokesperson for Lidl told Meat Trades Journal that despite its fictional brand, it continues to support British farming. “All of our fresh meat and poultry currently sold under ‘Strathvale Farm’ and ‘Birchwood Farm’ are sourced from British farmers and are Red Tractor-assured.

“We have very clear labelling on our packaging denoting country of origin, ensuring that customers can make fully informed purchasing decisions. Additionally, we are proud to have signed both the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Fruit & Veg Pledge and NFU Back British Farming Charter, which highlight the sourcing process and support the growth and development of UK growers and farmers.”

An Aldi spokesperson explained to Meat Trades Journal: “Aldi uses the ‘Ashfield Farm’ brand for its core range of fresh meat products. All products sold under this brand are 100% British and sourced from Red Tractor-assured farms across the UK.”

A Marks & Spencer spokesperson added: "All our 'Oakham' chicken is reared in a high welfare environment that's above industry standard. All British, our birds live in sheds with natural light, hale bales and objects to peck and are regularly audited to make sure they adhere to our high welfare and quality standards. The name of the farmers and the county of production is displayed on the front of pack."

Meat Trades Journal has yet to receive a response from Asda.