Trend-spotters had already predicted 2013 would be the year of localism and since the horsemeat scandal thrust traceability into the spotlight, consumers have only become more interested.
Brands responded by advertising that their products were British. This is a risky strategy, however, if it misleads consumers. Misleading advertising claims can lead to a PR backlash and even regulatory investigation. It can also incite consumer anger and result in challenges from campaigning and industry groups.
Criticisms have been levelled at Carling, for example, for its ‘British cider’ branding (‘Carling insists its new cider is British’, 27 April). Although made in the UK and to a British recipe, it contains apples sourced from abroad.
Complaints about advertising claims are typically considered by Trading Standards or the Advertising Standards Authority. Trading Standards authorities can take enforcement action and even seek criminal sanctions. But ASA complaints should not be taken lightly, as its decisions can lead to highly damaging PR. ASA decisions on ‘Britishness’ are particularly likely to be highlighted by the national press.
Last October, Kerry Foods ran a TV advert for Richmond ham. It featured a man wearing only a cap who strolled past a group of naked picnickers, singing a song about the naturalness of the ham. It ended on a shot of the man’s backside and a voiceover stating “New Richmond ham. Britain’s only ham made with 100% natural ingredients.” The ASA received 371 complaints.
The vast majority of these related to the nudity. Only five related to the provenance claim. But it was this aspect of the complaint that was upheld. The ASA found the reference to ‘Britain’s only ham’ misleading: consumers were likely to interpret this as meaning the product was British in origin, when it was made in Ireland.
Only products that are genuinely British should be advertised as such - and ingredients and processing locations should both be considered. Otherwise brands risk losing consumer trust and failing to ensure regulatory compliance.
Dan Smith is a director in Wragge & Co’s food & drink team