New figures show a return to growth for retailer Tesco amid anger from the farming industry about how 'fake farm brands' helped fuel the growth.
After a troubled few years, during which the UK’s biggest supermarket chain has been hit by scandal and falling profitability under pressure from the discounters, Tesco increased its sales by 1.3 per cent for the 12 weeks ending October 9. This was its first sign of upward growth since March 2015.
The latest grocery share figures from Kantar Worldpanel show Tesco has grown faster than the overall market, where sales increased by 0.8 per cent on last year.
The retailer attracted a further 228,000 shoppers to help its market share grow to 28.2 per cent – its first year-on-year market share gain since 2011.
At the heart of its revival has been the introduction of its fake farm brands, such as Woodside Farm pork products.
Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar Worldpanel, said: “Foods including ready meals and produce have been among the fastest growing areas at Tesco, helped by its ‘Farm Brands’ but also its standard own label lines.”
The farming industry has reacted angrily to the branding, accusing retailers of misleading consumers and riding on the coattails of the trust UK farmers have built.
The most recent and high profile example is Tesco’s introduction of brand names such as ‘Woodside Farms’ and ‘Boswell Farms’.
Yorkshire pig farmer and former National Pig Association chairman Richard Longthorp said Tesco appeared to have 'forgotten the lessons about trust it should have learned from the horsemeat scandal.'
Mr Longthorp said: “I thought my memory was bad but clearly the memory of the people at Tesco must be somewhat worse – or they were being somewhat disingenuous back in 2013. Remember Horsegate?
“It wasn’t really about horsemeat, it was about trust.
“I seem to recall Tesco and other retailers being aghast at what had happened and how trust had been breached and must never be allowed to happen again.
“So what are they doing now? They are using tertiary brands (aka flags of convenience) such as ‘Woodside Farms’, to trick their customers into thinking that the meat they are buying is British. Well there can’t be that many pig farms in Denmark or Holland called “Woodside” can there?
'A range of countries'
Despite the criticism it is receiving from across the farming sector, including complaints to Trading Standards, Tesco has stood behind its fake farm brands.
A Tesco spokesman acknowledged that the products sold under the brand come from ‘a range of countries’.
“Every product is sourced from a selection of farms and growers - some are small, family-run farms while others are of a larger scale," the spokesman said.
“Tesco customers are among the savviest in the country and they understand that one farm could not possibly supply Tesco given our scale and the vast range of products that they want to buy from us.
“Every product is clearly labelled with its country of origin and the Union Jack is prominently displayed on all British produce."