If anything, the downturn has led to strengthening of values, irrespective of income group, and in fact Sainsbury’s customers are buying more sustainably sourced food than ever before.
So it is unfortunate that the ASA ruling on Tesco’s Price Promise has inadvertently provided a cloak of institutional validity to the idea it is somehow acceptable to apply a “pick and mix” approach to values, depending on product price.
Should food buying be turned into a lottery for those on tight budgets at precisely the time when the grocery industry needs more than ever to restore trust in the wake of the horsemeat scandal?
We don’t think so.
We and our customers place huge value on our partnerships with organisations like Fairtrade and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), who rigorously accredit and check products so that customers can be sure they know the products they are buying meet the highest standards.
It’s not good enough simply to claim as Tesco does that you operate to certain ethical or sourcing standards if you’re not prepared to submit yourself in a consistent way to scrutiny such as this. That’s why we team up with organisations like MSC and RSPCA Freedom Foods, and that’s why others should.
Tellingly, in a blog responding to the ASA ruling, Tesco fails to discuss the absolutely fundamental issue of values in any way, choosing instead to focus on price and pleading that “a massive amount of work goes into making comparisons”.
Well, yes, it does – and that applies to customers as well as supermarkets. Unfortunately, the ASA ruling means that shoppers are being asked to accept that Tesco should be trusted impartially and accurately to compare its own brand products with those of Sainsbury’s and other rivals.
Most of all, perhaps, we disagree with Tesco’s fundamental premise that “we do not believe [ethical considerations] would be key to a customer’s transactional decision-making progress, particularly in relation to [...] value products.” We can’t accept the idea that the less you have to spend, the less right you have to care.
That’s why our our basics fresh poultry is 100% British.
It’s why our basics ham is 100% British.
And it’s why our basics eggs are from British, cage-free barn hens and are RSPCA Freedom Foods approved.
I wonder what the average British pig farmer makes of Tesco’s idea that customers don’t care all that much where their ham comes from? Well actually we know, because Martin Haworth, policy director at the National Farmer’s Union, said on Wednesday “We can only applaud Sainsbury’s for promoting its use of British-sourced produce. Comparing EU ham with ham produced in Britain is wrong and misleading to consumers”.
We don’t think customers would agree that any individual supermarket should be able to act as a custodian of ethical decision making off its own bat. A potential unintended consequence of the ASA would be the acceptance of a food hierarchy which implies that only customers who can afford premium ranges should benefit from high quality sourcing they can trust.
At Sainsbury’s we entirely reject this idea and will do everything in our power to allow customers to make informed choices.
The danger is this debate could easily be dismissed as another example of an unseemly row between two big companies in a competitive market place. But it runs far deeper than that. Values are fundamental to the way we do business and drive everything we do. We know these values matter to our customers and they can be assured that whatever Tesco may say, our customers can make a choice informed not just by price, but by their values as well.
Notes to editors
Mike Coupe is Sainsbury's Group Commercial Director. This op ed first appeared on page 5 of The Daily Telegraph Business section on 1 August 2013.