Brand Britain: promoting British food and drink Contents

1British consumers

Perceptions of British food and drink

4.Many surveys have been carried out to identify what appeals to British consumers when choosing food products. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) report in May 2018 “revealed that almost 70% of shoppers want to see more British food in stores and almost three in four would buy more British food if it demonstrated it was better value”.9 Research by the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) has found that “just under a half of shoppers state that it has become more important to buy products that support local or British producers now the UK is leaving the EU”.10

5.However, when surveyed, although British shoppers demonstrated a preference for buying British, they were also very price-conscious.11 The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) stated that “cost wins out over country of origin” and that “if the cost of British food increased […] by 25%, six in ten (60%) would stop buying British and instead get the equivalent from abroad”.12

6.Furthermore, “British” may be “shorthand for other product/production attributes that shoppers value (e.g. local benefits, fresh, authentic, sustainable)”.13 In particular, “there is a strong association between ‘British’ and ‘quality’” and “58 per cent of shoppers agreed that British or local helps to identify products as higher quality” in the categories of fresh produce, fresh meat and fish, and dairy.14 Jim Moseley, CEO of Red Tractor Assurance, told us that:

If you ask shoppers the question, “What is important to you when you buy food?” the immediate answer will always be price and quality. […] a lot of people will then go on to talk about how, by quality, they mean provenance, authenticity, safety and traceability.15

He added that “lots of people will say that British is great because it supports British farmers, it is probably fresher and it has done fewer road miles”.16 However, when it came to other markets, particularly English-speaking markets such as the USA or New Zealand, “if the price is right”, there is no barrier for consumers to buy products from those markets.17

7.Research shows that origin is important to some British consumers, but purchasing behaviour is primarily driven by price.

Country of origin labelling

8.The most direct method of informing consumers about the origin of their food in a retail context is the information provided on packaging and labels. While it is relatively straightforward to label “the origin of a cut of meat or a piece of fruit”, it is more complicated for “manufactured goods containing multiple ingredients”, as Dominic Goudie, Policy Manager for Exports at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), explained:

when you have multi-ingredient products in small packaging, which already face so many demands around labelling of nutrition requirements, adding origin for each and every ingredient becomes very challenging. […] some of these producers are changing sourcing throughout the year. Printing new labels each time you change the source becomes very difficult to do.18

Ruth Edge, Chief Food Chain Adviser at the NFU, argued that “the characterising ingredient is the most important part”.19 For example:

if you have a chicken curry, the NFU would like to see it being very clear where the chicken is from, especially if it is named on the label. We would not want to see every ingredient on a pizza, because that is ludicrous, but it would be good for consumers to be able to see the origin of those characterising ingredients.20

Jim Moseley, Red Tractor, raised the potential for blockchain (a publicly-visible, decentralised electronic ledger21) to enable scanning of “the QR code or barcode and see absolutely where every ingredient has come from”, although he noted that “the technology is a little way off at the moment”.22

9.We scrutinised country of origin labelling during our Brexit: Trade in food inquiry.23 EU regulations on country of origin labelling “allow for meat products to be labelled with the country where the last significant change in production took place—and not necessarily where the animal had spent its entire life”.24 We recommended that the Government improved country of origin labelling following the UK’s departure from the EU, so that consumers were informed about the food that they were eating.25 During this inquiry, David Rutley MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Food and Animal Welfare (hereafter referred to as the Food Minister) stated that “as we leave the EU, there will be opportunities in terms of food labelling and how we can help make that more transparent”.26 He explained that “while we are in the EU, we do have state aid rules” which “make it more complicated about how we can promote product and produce by origin”.27

10.The Government should introduce requirements for the origin of characterising ingredients in food products to be specified on labels. This would enable consumers to make informed choices.

11.The Government should explore the potential of blockchain and similar technology to increase transparency and traceability in the food supply chain. This could be useful for consumers when buying food and drink products with multiple ingredients and where ingredients may have crossed international borders during processing.

Red Tractor assurance schemes

12.Food assurance schemes help to provide guarantees that food has been produced to particular standards.28 In the UK, such schemes are run as product certification schemes accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).29 These schemes use regular independent inspections to check that members are meeting specific standards.30 Producers meeting the standards are able to display a logo on their food products as a signal of quality to consumers.31 The Food Standards Agency (FSA) monitors whether communications and claims made by assurance schemes are accurate.32

13.Red Tractor is, according to the Government, “the leading quality kitemark in the UK”.33 The Red Tractor logo “can be found on over £13.5 [billion] worth of British food & drink products” and “the scheme spans every sector of agriculture except for eggs and fish”.34 Red Tractor told the Committee that:

British consumers are concerned about the safety and traceability of their food and the way it has been produced. In an era of increasing labelling complexity and concerns over food produced to lower standards, they are looking for simple, independent signposts that they can trust.35

Research it had commissioned found that “over two thirds (69%) of UK primary shoppers recognise the logo and around 58% state that the logo positively influences their food purchasing decisions”.36

14.Red Tractor has specific standards for: chicken; pork; beef and lamb; dairy; and fresh produce and crops.37 In relation to traceability, Red Tractor stipulates that all chickens, pigs, cattle and sheep “must be born, reared and slaughtered in the UK” for products to display the Red Tractor logo.38 Other standards relate to animal welfare, use of antibiotics and environmental protection.39 Red Tractor assurance that meat and poultry are British is not explicit at the point of purchase; only the logo usually appears on food products. The NFU considered that although the majority of consumers recognised the logo, “the standards that sit behind this marque need to be explained to consumers”.40 We asked Jim Moseley, CEO of Red Tractor Assurance, about this and he responded:

We started a campaign last September, which was spearheaded on national TV. […] We have limited funds, so it was only on air for about five weeks, but we intend to continue it this year, probably with three bursts of activity and then a lot of activity on social and in print. All of it is designed to increase understanding among consumers of what it is that Red Tractor does and therefore what benefit it has for them.41

15.Jim Moseley told us that “post advertising, the awareness of Red Tractor is higher than Fairtrade” and that 61 per cent of main shoppers “say they are positively inclined to purchase” if they see the Red Tractor logo.42 He stated that “if you have a pork chop and a Red Tractor pork chop, we have clear evidence that people will trade to the Red Tractor product”.43

16.The Food Minister told us that Red Tractor “has received some really outstanding international recognition for the work it does” and “stands high in international benchmarking and is setting world-leading standards”.44

17.Red Tractor provides an assurance for British consumers about the traceability and British origin of meat and poultry. Some efforts have been made by Red Tractor to increase consumer awareness of the underlying standards and these promotional activities should continue. We suggest that Red Tractor should also assess the impact of its logo and further promotional activities on actual purchasing behaviour rather than just consumer surveys.

18.The potential role of Red Tractor and assurance schemes in international marketing is explored in the next chapter.

9 Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (BFD0013), para 50; The ADHB is a levy-funded “independent go-to source of trustworthy information and evidence-based research” that aims to help “the industry understand and deliver what consumers will trust and buy”. AHDB levies are paid by farmers, growers and others in the supply chain, see AHDB, ‘Levy information’, accessed June 2019

10 AHDB, Consumer insights, (May 2018), p 2

11 Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (BFD0013), para 49

12 National Farmers’ Union (BFD0016), para 46

13 AHDB, Consumer insights, (May 2018), p 2

14 AHDB, Consumer insights, (May 2018), p 3

21 Treasury Committee, Twenty-Second Report of Session 2017–19, Crypto-assets, HC 910, para 4

23 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2017–19, Brexit: Trade in food, HC 348, paras 129–133

24 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2017–19, Brexit: Trade in food, HC 348, para 130

25 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2017–19, Brexit: Trade in food, HC 348, para 133

28 Food Standards Agency, ‘Food certification and assurance schemes’, accessed June 2019

29 Food Standards Agency, ‘Food certification and assurance schemes’, accessed June 2019

30 Food Standards Agency, ‘Food certification and assurance schemes’, accessed June 2019

31 Food Standards Agency, ‘Food certification and assurance schemes’, accessed June 2019

32 Food Standards Agency, ‘Food certification and assurance schemes’, accessed June 2019

33 Food Standards Agency, ‘Food certification and assurance schemes’, accessed June 2019

34 Red Tractor Assurance (BFD0040), executive summary

35 Red Tractor Assurance (BFD0040), executive summary

36 Red Tractor Assurance (BFD0040), para 9

37 Assured Food Standards, ‘Standards chart’, accessed June 2019

38 Assured Food Standards, ‘Standards chart’, accessed June 2019

39 Assured Food Standards, ‘Standards chart’, accessed June 2019

40 National Farmers’ Union (BFD0016), para 47

Published: 27 June 2019