Don't fall for creative food labels says Which? Supermarkets are using fiction to sell products

13 February 2012

Group shot food 2

Manufacturers and supermarkets are increasingly using creative language to sell their products – even if it means creating place names that don’t exist.

Marks & Spencer sells 11,000 tonnes of Lochmuir salmon every year while Tesco sells thousands of chickens from Willow Farm. 

But neither of these places exist. 

Both are marketing inventions used by M&S and Tesco to brand their salmon and chickens. 

M&S also uses the name Oakham to brand its chickens. Willow Farm and Oakham chickens come from farms all over the UK while fish farms across Scotland supply salmon for the Lochmuir range.

Creative food labels 

The use of a place name can create the illusion of a more personal shopping experience like a farmers’ market or evoke images of a specific location. 

And with more of us interested in where our food comes from than ever before, clever branding can help sell products.

Which? research has shown that place of origin and provenance is important to consumers. 

In 2011, Which? surveyed 1009 members of the public and over half said they always or sometimes look at the provenance of their food.

72% said it's important that provenance labelling is on meat and 73% said the same for dairy. 

There are no rules about using names of specific or fictitious locations to brand products – unless it has Protected Geographical Status (PGS). 

Stilton Cheese, Melton Mowbray pork pies and champagne all have PGS and have to come from the region stated in their name.

Homemade or Hearty?

But fictitious locations aren’t the only way manufacturers and retailers entice you to buy their products. 

In the supermarket consumers are bombarded with labels using creative language. But it’s not always clear which terms have true meaning and which are just 'marketing speak'.

The words ‘homemade’ and ‘hearty’ allude to feelings of comfort and make products sounds appealing, but only ‘homemade’ has guidance on how it can be used. 

Factory-made foods cannot use 'homemade' on the label - only products prepared in a domestic kitchen can make this claim.

Other words such as crisp, succulent and rich provide a sensory experience and are known as ‘weasel words’ – employed to encourage a purchase.

Word play

More confusing can be the vast difference between words such as 'flavour' and 'flavoured'. 

Yop strawberry flavour yoghurt drink need never have been anywhere near a strawberry and can mean artificial flavouring. 

But Tesco's strawberry flavoured milk has to contain the real ingredient.

A closer look at the packaging of Covent Garden Wild Mushroom soup shows that it contains only 0.6% dried wild mushrooms but 18% of normal mushrooms. 

And Homepride Beef in Ale sauce contains only 4% ale, no beef stock and 38% tomatoes.

Which? says

Which? campaigns for honest claims and clear labelling. We want consumers to get the products they think they’re paying for. 

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: ‘Some of the labels commonly found on shop shelves, while not illegal, hide the real contents of a product or are confusing to customers. The food industry must do more to make sure people get what they think they're paying for.’

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