Smoked salmon rip off? Thin end of the wedge?

smoked salmon appetisersAP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Researchers at Which? discovered an astonishing phenomenon in the fancy smoked salmon section of the supermarket. In a recent test, 25 out of 32 packets of smoked salmon weighed less than the price printed on the label.

So what's going on, and can this be fair?


The research

Which? weighed 32 packs from Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Tesco, and found that 25 weighed less than the labels said - and seven weighed more. On average, the light packets had 2.4% less than the label stated.

In fact, the rules give supermarkets and manufacturers a bit of leeway between the weight in the packet and the one listed on the label - which they call tolerable negative error. They are allowed to be 9% out and still fit within the rules.

You can understand this to a certain extent: a fish is a certain size, and nature doesn't conform to a one-size-fits-all approach. We can't expect supermarkets to go around chopping products and wasting huge chunks of fish in order to ensure the weight exactly matches the listing on the packet.

All but one packet fell within the rules laid down by Trading Standards on how far out the weights were allowed to be. The one exception was a single pack of Tesco Everyday Value Smoked Salmon, which was listed as 200g, but actually contained 181.5g. Tesco explained this was because some of the oil transferred to the packet while it was on the shelf. It said the packet itself would have conformed to the rules when it was packed.

Which? itself said the results should be treated with some caution as it wasn't a full in-depth piece of research.

Does this worry you?

So, given that they stay within the rules, should we be bothered by this piece of research at all?

On the one hand, they are within the rules, they are making understandable decisions, and you can see what is in the packet when you buy it - so if something looks a bit small you can put it back and get something else.

However, on the other hand, it's interesting to see that so many over-estimated the weight of the food. In many instances, therefore, it would seem to indicate that when it's hard to be bang-on the weight, the supermarkets tend to err on the side which happens to be most profitable.

A Tesco spokesman refused to be drawn on this subject, insisting that they always conformed to all the Trading Standards Rules.

Wider concerns

Clearly Which? only tested 32 pieces of smoked salmon, so it would be wrong to infer that this was the case across the supermarket. However, fresh produce conforms to similar rules. Smaller packets have to be within 9% of the weight on the packet, and larger packets within 1.5%-4.5% depending on the quantity or weight. This seems logical. After-all when weighing out fruit and vegetables, they're not going to start chopping tomatoes and grapes in half to ensure a dead-on accurate weight.

Clearly they are regularly making decisions on whether to go over or under. There is no indication as to whether they tend to err on the side of generosity or on profit

However, it raises the question of whether we would be better off weighing our own fresh produce, or getting things like smoked salmon at the deli, so you are getting exactly what you pay for.

But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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Smoked salmon rip off? Thin end of the wedge?

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