Tesco vegan vegetarian aisle

Tesco has been rapped by the advertising watchdog for claiming its vegan ‘Plant Chef’ burgers are better for the planet than meat burgers.

The Advertising Standards Authority found Tesco had failed to back up its claims that switching to Plant Chef burgers would “positively affect the environment”.

Ads by the supermarket urged customers to “do their bit” for the environment by choosing the products, claiming “a little swap can make a difference to the planet”.

The advertisement, which ran in print, on television, radio and social media, was subject to more than 170 complaints.

The ASA said its code required that environmental claims about an advertised product were based on its full life-cycle and if they were not, such claims were likely to be in breach.

“A product’s environmental benefit cannot be assumed, and in the absence of robust evidence to support any objective claim, ads that feature such claims are likely to be misleading,” its ruling said today.

Tesco said it had worked with university experts and relied on third party and scientifically led publications that all contained similar conclusions – that plant-based diets could have environmental benefits for the planet.

The supermarket said there was “widespread scientific evidence” to support the claims that a “swap” to plant-based products could make a difference to or be better for the planet, when compared with the production and consumption of equivalent meat-based products.

It said the views were widely shared, understood or capable of being understood by the average consumer, in the context of the grocery market.

The ASA said it acknowledged it was generally accepted among the scientific community that diets that included meat, and particularly red meat, had a greater environmental impact than plant-based diets, and that switching to a more plant-based diet was a way in which individuals could reduce their overall environmental impact.

But it said: “However, we also recognised that specific plant-based products, particularly processed products which could contain a number of different ingredients sourced from around the world, could nevertheless contain ingredients or be produced and transported by methods that had a high carbon or negative environmental impact.

“Notwithstanding the general benefits of plant-based diets in broad environmental terms, it would not necessarily always be the case that specific plant-based products would always be guaranteed to have a lower carbon or environmental impact than specific meat-based products.”

A Tesco spokesman said the supermarket was “disappointed by this outcome”, adding: “We’re committed to making it easy and affordable for customers to incorporate plant-based meat alternatives into their diets and recipes.”

Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s, which also faced a complaint over green claims for plant-based food, has been found by the ASA not to have breached any rules.

The supermarket’s ads, part of its Helping Everyone Eat Better campaign, encouraged shoppers to replace some of their animal-based protein in recipes with a plant-based version – such as “mixing half chickpeas with half the chicken in your curry” – as it is “better for the planet”.

The ASA received four complaints claiming the environmental statements made by Sainsbury’s were misleading because the plant-based products featured in the ads – chickpeas, lentils, and beans – were grown and imported from abroad, and so were not necessarily more eco-friendly than some domestically produced meat.

The watchdog found the complaints were unfounded and that the ads simply advocated a reduction in meat portions, with examples of substitutions for plant protein equivalents, an industry that as a whole has less environmental impact associated with it than the meat one.

“We considered that made clear that the ad was focusing on a change in diet, shifting from meat-based to more plants, rather than a comparison of domestic and imported produce,” the ASA said in its ruling.

“It was making a general claim regarding the overall accepted premise that a plant-based diet was, in general terms, better for the environment.”

The ASA also noted the ads did not feature or promote any particular Sainsbury’s product range but only showed ingredients, which “could be purchased at many retailers”.