“Supermarkets are making it even harder for us to eat less meat by encouraging us to buy more meat than we would have, if it hadn’t been on promotion.”
Britain’s biggest supermarkets are heavily promoting cheap meat, despite pledging to lead the way towards a more sustainable food system for health and climate change reasons, according to a new report.
The study, which was commissioned by charity Eating Better, assessed the supermarkets’ role in encouraging the purchase of meat and fish in the UK.
In the UK, nine out of ten people visit supermarkets on a weekly basis, giving these companies significant influence over consumer choices.
For the study, research foundation Questionmark tracked and analysed promotions for meat products on retailers’ websites over a five week period from August to September 2021.
It found that Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons are each offering a variety of weekly deals on meat products such as burgers and sausages to boost sales and profits.
It also found that Morrisons and Asda ran 1490 and 1,352 promotions for meat or fish respectively than Tesco and Sainsbury’s, which ran slightly fewer.
Other findings included Asda and Morrisons offering several multi-buy offers for animal products, such as three for £10, three for the price of two and buy one get one free.
Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s used discounts on meat products to attract shoppers.
‘Contradicting their own commitments’
Simon Billing is Eating Better’s executive director. He said: “Supermarkets are bombarding us with Bogof [buy one, get one free] burgers, sausages and cheap chicken of unknown origin, putting profit before population health and that of the planet.
“The Big Four are contradicting their own commitments by encouraging customers to buy more meat than they would have if it hadn’t been on promotion.”
He added: “The impact of this is that we’re eating more meat than we need, or is good for us. Pushing cheap meat into our baskets also supports intensive animal farming, which is wrecking the planet, emitting a huge amount of greenhouse gas and requiring massive amounts of our precious resources, such as land and water.”
The research also found that retailers will still be able to promote meat under the new food laws coming into effect in October as part of the government’s crackdown on the promotion of HFSS (high fat, sugar and salt) products to tackle childhood obesity.
The marketing of HFSS foods such as cake, candy, ice cream, chips, and pizza will be outlawed on TV before the 9pm “watershed” and also online.
Meanwhile meat is largely exempted from the legislation. Only 1% of the meat multi-buys examined in this study will be banned.
UK’s National Food Strategy
In the government-commissioned national food strategy, published last July, Britons were asked to reduce their intake of meat by 30% by 2032 in order to improve health in the UK and protect the environment.
It also recommended increasing fruit and vegetable intake by 30% and fibre intake by 50%. At the same time, it advised to reduce the consumption of HFSS foods by 25%.
The government’s climate change committee also released a report that urged people to reduce their intake of meat by 20%-50% to help the country meet its target of reaching net zero by 2050.
‘Supermarkets are making it even harder for us to eat less meat’
While an October 2021 report published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health showed that meat and fish consumption in the UK has dropped by 17% over the past decade, Brits, still eat almost double the global average.
“The Questionmark research shows that supermarkets are making it even harder for us to eat less meat by encouraging us to buy more meat than we would have, if it hadn’t been on promotion,” Billing said.
“Supermarkets need to come to terms, and quite quickly, with selling less meat and instead, promote more veg and healthy plant proteins, which are better for us, our pocket and the planet.” He urged ministers to extend the junk food ban to cover meat promotions.
In response to the findings, a Sainsbury’s spokesperson told The Guardian: “This report is not an accurate reflection of our commitment to ‘help everyone eat better’. We aim to make a healthy and varied diet accessible to everyone [and are] investing significantly in keeping prices low on products such as fruit, veg, grains, meat and fish.”
An Asda spokesperson added: “We recognise the need to provide customers with meat-free alternatives and have expanded our plant-based range by 50% in the past year and committed to doubling sales from plant-based products by 2023.”
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