Supermarkets misleading customers with ‘Made in Britain’ labels, Which? investigation finds

Food labelling
Researchers from Which? say they have uncovered a 'surprising amount of inconsistent and misleading food labelling' - Eugenio Franchi

Several supermarkets are misleading customers with “Made in Britain” labels, an investigation by Which? has found.

The consumer champion found “misleading, inconsistent and meaningless” origin labelling on foods in some of the UK’s most popular grocery stores, which it said could leave shoppers struggling to understand where their food actually comes from.

One supermarket was found to display Union flags and “Made in Britain” on its packaging for food made with meat from the European Union, while another displayed Spanish cauliflowers with a Union flag on the shelf label.

Which? has promised to share its findings with the the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and warned that shops needed to make sure customers were “armed with the information they need to make informed choices”.

In Aldi, it was found that the supermarket’s Crestwood bacon and cheese wraps had Union flags and “Made in Britain” on the front of the pack, despite the label on the back of the packaging stating they were made with pork from the EU.

The same was found with the budget supermarket’s steak and gravy pie.

Other products contained “meaningless” information, which was found to give consumers little insight into where the food they were buying was produced.

For example, a pack of sausage rolls from Lidl stated they were made using “UK and non-UK pork”, while the label on a pack of gammon joints from Iceland had the pork as “EU and non-EU origin”.

There was also evidence of misleading signage and shelf labels in several of the stores visited.

At the Aldi store visited by Which?, tomatoes from Morocco, parsley from Italy and sweet mini peppers from Spain sat on a shelf under a large banner decorated with a Union flag and the words “Championing Great British Quality”.

Meanwhile, in an Asda store, Which? found cauliflowers that had a Union flag on the shelf label but were actually from Spain.

Researchers also found examples of loose cauliflowers, red cabbage, courgettes and onions at Sainsbury’s, peppers, melons and mangoes at Asda and spring onions at Aldi, with no visible origin labelling on the shelf edge or the products themselves.

Current labelling rules require meat, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, honey and wine to include a country or place of origin.

The rules do not generally apply to processed meat or frozen or processed fruit and vegetables.

There is a requirement to provide origin labelling if it would be misleading not to.

If processed foods are assembled in the UK, the products can be labelled as Made in Britain even if the constituent parts are from elsewhere.

Ele Clark, Which? retail editor, said: “Which? research has uncovered a surprising amount of inconsistent and misleading food labelling, suggesting that - even when the rules are properly adhered to - consumers aren’t getting all the information they want about their food’s origin.

“Shoppers want to know where their food comes from for multiple reasons, including supporting British suppliers and making more sustainable choices.

“Supermarkets should particularly focus on labelling loose fruit and vegetables more clearly, but manufacturers and retailers should also consider providing origin information on more processed meat products so shoppers are armed with the information they need to make informed choices.”

An Aldi spokesman said: “We understand that our shoppers want to know where the food they buy comes from, and we work hard to ensure that all our labelling complies with the rules.

“When it comes to fresh fruit and veg, we are proud to support British farmers and aim to stock British produce whenever it’s available. Customers understand that at this time of year that isn’t always possible, but we remain firmly committed to supporting the British farming community.”

A spokesman for Asda said: “We have stringent processes in place to ensure country-of-origin is clearly displayed at the shelf edge and on products themselves where applicable, at all our stores.

“We have reminded our colleagues at this particular store of these processes so that customers are able to clearly see the country of origin.”

A spokesman for Iceland said: “At Iceland our products are great quality and value for customers and we follow UK government guidance on food labelling, including country-of-origin.”

A Sainsbury’s spokesman said: “We have processes in place to make sure country-of-origin information is clearly displayed on the product or shelf and we carry out regular checks working closely with our regulator, the Animal and Plant Health Agency.”