Tesco butcher meat counter staff

The big four retailers ran nearly 5,000 deals in two months, according to Eating Better

Food charity Eating Better has been accused of dismissing the cost of living crisis, and the plight of farmers, in a report that criticised retailers for over-promoting Meat.

A study published this week by the charity – based on research by Dutch institute the Questionmark Foundation from August to September 2021 – revealed the UK’s four biggest supermarkets were “heavily promoting meat to boost sales”, despite green pledges.

Citing how the National Food Strategy suggested consumers needed to reduce meat intake by 30% by 2032, supermarkets were “bombarding” shoppers “with bogof burgers, sausages and cheap chicken of unknown origin”, said Eating Better executive director Simon Billing.

The research found that the big four ran a total of 4,723 promotions on meat and poultry during the period, with Asda and Morrisons using multibuys most often to promote meat, and Sainsbury’s offering the biggest price reduction.

Billing pointed out that “Tesco and Sainsbury’s, in particular, have climate commitments to promote sustainable eating. Supermarkets need to come to terms, and quite quickly, with selling less meat and instead promoting more veg and healthy plant proteins”.

But in light of inflationary pressures on families, plus a cost of production crisis threatening the future of UK food and farming, Eating Better’s accusations were described as “blinkered” and “frustrating” by British Poultry Council CEO Richard Griffiths.

The claim supermarkets were selling “cheap chicken” was “propaganda”, adding it was actually “affordable chicken of very well-known origin”.

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“It’s frustrating as the message that underlines their research is that big is bad, but this type of large scale production is what’s keeping the country well fed,” he added.

British Meat Processors Association CEO Nick Allen added there was “no proof to say meat is an unhealthy food,” noting how meat was not included in government HFSS restrictions.

Meanwhile, National Pig Association CEO Zoe Davies – who has been campaigning for supermarkets to promote more pork to clear the backlog of pigs on farms – suggested the study did not take into account the ­current issues facing the food sector, adding: “Is this really the time to be questioning whether it is a good thing that hard-pushed families are being offered food at prices they are more likely to be able to afford?”

And the BRC’s director of food and sustainability Andrew Opie insisted “retailers are trying their best to offer customers the best value for money on meat and other ingredients, allowing everyone access to a balanced and sustainable diet”, while the cost of living, and the cost of food was rising.  

“Furthermore, retailers have been encouraged by government to promote UK meat, particularly pork, to help farmers who are struggling to survive.”

But in response, Billing told The Grocer meat promotions “may seem like a solution to putting a meal on the table”. However, research by Public Health England in 2020 showed that people “don’t save people money and that bogofs and multi-buys encourage us to buy more meat than we would have done, if it hadn’t been on promotion”, he claimed.

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Retailers were “bathing in the afterglow of Veganuary, promoting their plant-based ranges, while at the same time promoting cheap meat”, he pointed out.

“This just doesn’t stack up. They’re also contradicting their own healthy eating and climate commitments when they ought to be making it easier for everyone to fill their baskets with less meat and more fruit and veg and plant proteins, which are better for our pocket and our health.”

Supply chain shocks from Brexit, the pandemic and now the war “had exposed the fragility of our food system and put unprecedented pressure on farmers”, he insisted.

“We can use this ‘perfect storm’ to pivot to sustainable farming practices, which are less reliant on costly inputs, but retailers need to support this.”