tesco farms

Tesco’s Project Reset has been an exercise in simplification. But this week comes news of a new range of ‘farm’-based fresh produce brands that replace Everyday Value products. And the move immediately introduces a new dynamic into Tesco’s range review, raising a whole host of questions in the process.

The use of tertiary brands - such as Willow Farm (for chicken), Boswell Farm (for beef) and Nightingale (for salads) - is a throwback to Tesco’s initial response to the discounters at the onset of the recession in 2008. While widely criticised, the discounter range - including Sun-sip (cola), Country Barn (biscuits), Oak Lane (baked beans) and Butterfield (cupcakes), - proved surprisingly effective for Sir Terry Leahy & Co in seeing off the incursions of the discounters.

Does Tesco really think a second stab at the discounter range routine will yield similar results? CEO Dave Lewis has consistently argued Tesco’s turnaround is about much more than coming up with a strategy to fight the discounters. Yet that’s what experts have suggested: that somehow strangely unfamiliar ‘brands’ as deployed by the discounters will suddenly convince consumers Tesco is good value.

Another interpretation would be that the Tesco brand is now so weakened it has no alternative but to abandon its ‘good-better-best’ strategy. In meat, in particular, Value has become synonymous with Horsegate, and even in its revised Everyday Value format, fresh produce specs were often lower than the discounters.

I also wonder if this move actually fits with its simplification mantra after all: does fresh produce really need good-better-best? Is good no longer good enough?

If I have a concern it’s over what these fake ‘brands’ say about the renewed ‘honesty’ of Tesco as a brand. Farming sources such as the NFU worry what the move means in terms of provenance as they fear Tesco’s sourcing commitment might be undermined. But my unease goes beyond that. In the much criticised Ruth Jones/Ben Miller ads Tesco seemed to mock its own customers. Is it falling into the same trap again?