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Suzi Edwards

Shopped

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Not sure if anyone else here has read this book, but it's an expose of the UK supermarket system by sometimes Guardian writer Joanna Blythman. The opening section on food was enough to make me cut up my loyalty card, but the following sections about the systematic decemation of the UK farming industry and the overview of how suppliers are treated have lead me to take a stand.

I'm not shopping in supermarkets anymore.

With my weekly delivery from Farmaround and trip to the Islington farmers market, coupled with an excellent local butcher and fishmonger, I think I might do OK. I'm worried about cat litter as I use a (very good) supermarket brand, but I am guessing that there's a brand name out there that I could support instead. I'll get my cat food from Charlies, my local newsagent/grocers.

I'll report on here on how it's going. I've managed 7 days so far...


Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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Looks like an interesting book.

Here's an eGullet friendly Amazon link for anyone who wants to buy it and send some money to eGullet at the same time (hope it works).


Edited by Stigand (log)

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Hmm - I wonder if this isn't closing the hatch after the cockerspaniel has poodled - the problem for me is that where I live it's practically too late. We're talking about the death of the high street. Those who still have a good local butcher, a conscientious greengrocer, or a fishmonger with high turnover are few. I too would be very happy to give up superstores. I'm fortunate in having some off the above - including a veg market on North End Road around the corner from me - but to get anything orgaanic I have to go over to Nottinghill or the turgid depths of Kensington if I'm to avoid a supermarket. The other problem - for those places "just beyond local" - it's the absence of parking, or the lack of immediate transport.

Well, maybe I'm just moaning. I shall have to ponder this...


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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the important thing to remember is that you don't have to boycott completely! every single time we decide "hell, i am not going to the supermarket to buy this" we are doing a good thing.

the supermarkets are currently after our "small basket shops" (those trips where you just need some tomatoes but end up getting a few other things) and the proliferation of smaller, highstreet supermarkets is their way of grabbing the rest of our spend on groceries.

the sad fact is that it's impossible for many people to avoid the supermarket, but really, every little helps. to use a well know supermarket jingle :-)


Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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Ok - time to make a list:

Things I've given up buying from Supermarkets over the last year:

Beef (diet excepted)

Pork + products (Cheeks/belly, bacon, pancetta etc) (Ginger Pig, butcher, La Fromagerie)

Chicken (superb organic from local butcher)

Organic Fruit and Veg amd herbs (40-60% of weekly intake)

Fresh pulses (Borough)

Pasta flours (tipo '00' amd Semolina)

Cheeses (50%)

Pasta (diet excepted)

French unsalted butter (15-20% intake)

Fish (15-20%)

Ecover Cleaning products (35-40%)

Items I'm still dependent upon supermarkets for:

Lamb

Cereals (organic)

Flours (for baking)

French unsalted butter

Olive oil

Wine (diet excepted)

Organic fruit and veg (40-60%)

Water

Ecover cleaning products (house/clothes/dishwasher)

Pulses (canned and dried)

Tuna (in oil)

Anchovies (canned)

Fish (80%)

Bread

Paper products (bog roll and kitchen towels)

I do go to Borough as often as I can, but it doubles my food costs. In fact, I find I have far less money in general to spend on other things since I've been shopping this way. I can't honestly see where I'll find substitutes for canned goods, cleaning products and bread - in fact most of the second list. The local alternatives are mini-markets - franchised off the larger ones.

Having said that, I can't believe the supermarket chicken I used to eat - compared to one I've found locally. It makes me shudder just thinking about it. Same goes for pork.

Has anyone else been faced with these issues?


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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I can't honestly see where I'll find substitutes for canned goods, cleaning products and bread - in fact most of the second list. The local alternatives are mini-markets - franchised off the larger ones.

Having said that, I can't believe the supermarket chicken I used to eat - compared to one I've found locally. It makes me shudder just thinking about it. Same goes for pork.

Has anyone else been faced with these issues?

We too have made the choice not to shop at supermarkets, and we consider ourselves fortunate, since there are plenty of people who either live in rural areas where they have to drive long distances and sometimes supermarkets are their only source, and others where their local small business community has already been destroyed by these monster sized stores.

Our decision began with meat, when we kept seeing meat being left to fester in the asiles, because these places here in France are so difficult to manouver around in, and the people on roller blades gathering it up and putting it back in the coolers after it had been sitting out.

Then we realized we didn't really need paper towels, instead we keep washcloths handy and drain things & wash the windows with newspaper.

Some of the essential products we can't do without like cleaning supplies, cat food, etc. We get from a local neighborhood merchant, more expensive yes.

But we have made that choice. I imagine that if left unchecked these huge conglomerates will eventually drive out all small business activity and then have control over the entire market and even more leverage in heavy handed control of their sources. It's scary to think about. :unsure:

It has involved reorganising our errands for the most part, making more small stops here and there, planning to go to specific sources for certain ingredients that others don't have. But in all it's been a rather smooth adjustment. We do expend a good deal more energy sourcing our food and supplies. There is a lot more at stake than just the small businesses, it's the least we can do to keep the cities alive.

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It is very difficult to avoid the lure of the supermarket.

As I only shop for myself (Normally), and am young(ish) and fairly fit, walking and carrying a reasonable amount of stuff is not too much of a problem. I also have a fair amount of free time (All weekend, plus I work flexi) so I can take time to shop.

The problem is, there is nowhere. In my town there is no greengrocers, there is a very poor quality fruit and veg stall on our laughable saturday 'Market' (Fine if you want cheap underwear or mobile phone covers). There isn't a fishmonger for miles, and even the small fish counter in the supermarket has gone.

The Butchers in the town centre is of the 10lbs of economy mince and family pack of chinese chicken variety, although there is a better one in walking distance, and one where I work.

The town centre actually has no food shops apart from two supermarkets and that butchers, although it does have over ten charity shops :blink:

Oh and a Lidl (Which actually sells better veg than the supermarkets, plus decent everyday olive oil)

I use farmers markets when I can, but as I don't drive it is only practical to go to the closest ones.

So the reality is that the supermarket probably supplies 60-70% of my food.


I love animals.

They are delicious.

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Items I'm still dependent upon supermarkets for:

Lamb

Cereals (organic)

Flours (for baking)

French unsalted butter

Olive oil

Wine (diet excepted)

Organic fruit and veg (40-60%)

Water

Ecover cleaning products (house/clothes/dishwasher)

Pulses (canned and dried)

Tuna (in oil)

Anchovies (canned)

Fish (80%)

Bread

Paper products (bog roll and kitchen towels)

I do go to Borough as often as I can, but it doubles my food costs. In fact, I find I have far less money in general to spend on other things since I've been shopping this way. I can't honestly see where I'll find substitutes for canned goods, cleaning products and bread - in fact most of the second list. The local alternatives are mini-markets - franchised off the larger ones.

Having said that, I can't believe the supermarket chicken I used to eat - compared to one I've found locally. It makes me shudder just thinking about it. Same goes for pork.

Has anyone else been faced with these issues?

at risk of sounding like an advert for farmaround they also deliver

water

organic cereal

ecover cleaning products

some breads

paper products

i am very pleased about the water thing because i can't drive and it's a mare to carry back from the shops.

i get my tuna (ortiz) from brindisa and nearly faint at the price every time. but it's soooooo good. i used to feed supermarket tuna to my cats and they eye me plaintively every time they smell the ortiz stuff. am sure it makes me a bad person, but i will not share with them. brindisa have a stall at borough, you can probably get it there. they also do nice salted tinned anchovies.

i also recently purchased some nunez de prado flor olive oil from there...

and then saw nunez de prado standard olive oil in satanburies. i think i would be happy to buy artisan products from a supermarket. it's the own label stuff that's really damaging the suppliers. in fact, i guess that it's a big thing for a small oil producer to be stocked my a chain (and actually quite unusual from what i have read) so as long as the chains don't threated to delist them if they can't produce enough oil, maybe this is a good thing.

problem is, the supermarkets have systematically taken producers like nunez de prado off their shelves in the past few years...so there's even less choice of the really good stuff.


Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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God knows how they've managed it but in Brighton (well, Hove actually) Tesco now have a supermarket store on the High Street, amongst the small independant stores, plus a Tesco Metro about a half mile away. It has been with us for about 6 months I suppose and I haven't noticed any of the smaller retailers closing down yet, but it'll happen before too long I'm sure.

I never buy meat, fish or organic fruit & vegetables from the supermarket, but this is more of a quality issue than anything else. I'd better read the book and make it a personal issue.

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Offcentre - welcome to eGullet!

The problem is, there is nowhere. In my town there is no greengrocers, there is a very poor quality fruit and veg stall on our laughable saturday 'Market' (Fine if you want cheap underwear or mobile phone covers). There isn't a fishmonger for miles, and even the small fish counter in the supermarket has gone.

The Butchers in the town centre is of the 10lbs of economy mince and family pack of chinese chicken variety, although there is a better one in walking distance, and one where I work.

The town centre actually has no food shops apart from two supermarkets and that butchers, although it does have over ten charity shops  :blink:

Oh and a Lidl (Which actually sells better veg than the supermarkets, plus decent everyday olive oil)

I use farmers markets when I can, but as I don't drive it is only practical to go to the closest ones.

So the reality is that the supermarket probably supplies 60-70% of my food.

I lived in Horley for seven months - and it's almost exactly as you describe.

One Waitrose, one butchers, one Lidl (or like). One market (pre-packaged meat, underwear, mobile phone covers). It drove me up the wall.


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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i think i would be happy to buy artisan products from a supermarket. it's the own label stuff that's really damaging the suppliers. in fact, i guess that it's a big thing for a small oil producer to be stocked my a chain (and actually quite unusual from what i have read) so as long as the chains don't threated to delist them if they can't produce enough oil, maybe this is a good thing.

Could you go into this further? What business practices determine thhe choice of generic brand products?


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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It hasn't helped the small shops that the Mayor and some of the local councils have enacted draconian anti-parking regimes, "traffic calming" chicanes, £5 congestion charge, etc. I am lucky because Northcote Road is an easy walk from home; I can trundle wheeled basket from one end of the road to the other and buy fish, meat, fruit and veg, bread, cheeses, wine, coffee, Italian specialities and "healthy things" like tofu, grains, baking supplies. As a visiting friend remarked, it's an outdoor supermarket.

Any further distance requires a car, and that means parking. The supermarkets have all the advantages there, because they all have car parks. I do some shopping at Borough, by tube, but it's a huge hassle because of the need to drag multiple bundles or the wheeled basket down the stairs.

I'm all too well aware of the reasons for anti-car measures; my point is not that these are wrong, but that there are difficult and complex tradeoffs at work here.


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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I still buy artisan products from the smaller shops/borough if I can. Even though the cost goes to the small producer in both instances I'd rather the profit margin on top goes to say Brindisa than a big supermarket (want to minimise contributing to their massive empire). Also I don't find there is much cost saving in the supermarket for these products even though I'm sure they get them for less from the suppliers because of their bargaining power (this is an assumption of mine though I don't know the facts). That said I've seen come good products in Sainsbury's that I haven't seen elsewhere so have purchased one or two in the past.

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i think i would be happy to buy artisan products from a supermarket. it's the own label stuff that's really damaging the suppliers. in fact, i guess that it's a big thing for a small oil producer to be stocked my a chain (and actually quite unusual from what i have read) so as long as the chains don't threated to delist them if they can't produce enough oil, maybe this is a good thing.

Could you go into this further? What business practices determine thhe choice of generic brand products?

cost. it's as simple as that.

many supermarkets used to claim that their own brand stuff was exactly the same as branded products, hence kelloggs "we don't make cornflakes for anyone else" strapline.

let's take utterly butterly as an off the top of my head example. that was a product with a unique selling point; it tastes like butter but spreads straight from the fridge. years will have gone into producing that product. as soon as the supermarkets see how it sells they produce their own version, but at a significantly reduced price using inferior ingredients because cost is the only thing they can compete on.

utterly butterly is not a great example because the supermarket version hasn't made the makers of utterly butterly go bust. "shopped" gives an example of a producer that ended up having their innovative product delisted by a major chain and going out of business. supermarkets basically leech off manufactuers and gain competitive advantage by taking the scientific research they've done and tracking how well a product sells before they make their own.

when it comes to pitching for the business the supermarkets will engage potential suppliers of own brand stuff in e-auctions...the only criteria for selection is cost. cheaper the better. the e-auction means that there's no opportunity for suppliers to sell the benefits of going with them.

my biggest bugbear at the moment are the "finest" and "taste the difference" ranges where the supermarkets have recognised the "foodie" upswell and have responded with "better than the other stuff" lines. i was suckered in at first. oooh, a tomato that's grown for flavour i used to think. but what's a tomato grown for if it's not flavour? cost and transportability is the answer.

we've all ended up paying premium prices for produce that's allegedly better but is in fact food as it should be.


Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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supermarkets basically leech off manufactuers and gain competitive advantage by taking the scientific research they've done and tracking how well a product sells before they make their own.

Does "Shopped" have anything to say about whether the food industry makes use of intellectual property protection (patents) to guard against this situation? I'd be surprised if whoever owns Utterly Butterly hadn't taken out a patent application -- assuming it really is a novel and inventive product that is.

On the wider issue, our household has increasingly moved away from using supermarkets and towards small local outlets, mainly for the warm fuzzy feeling of supporting small business than any well worked out rationale it has to be said. However we are lucky in that (1) we are sufficiently well-off to pay a premium for premium products and (2) we live in Brixton which has the market, two delis and a wholefood shop within walking distance.

Let's not kid ourselves that this switch is an option for most people.

Finally, purely from an employee-rights perspective, I wonder whether local shops always cut the mustard compared to a chain like Tescos, which is under national scrutiny when it comes to these issues and which is, I believe, generally held to do reasonably well in this respect.

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i was using utterly butterly as an example. the ones in "shopped" are name free. from memory no mention is made of IP. i don't know if that's because it's not used in food manufacturing, if the author chose to ignore this or if the manufacturers she mentions forgot to lodge them.

but then i think about it and every "new" product soon has an own brand equivalent. i can't think of a single "innovative" product that doesn't.

and actually, which came first, "i can't believe it's not butter" or "utterly butterly"? i mean, it's not the human genome project. food manufacturers are constantly looking for new product. i would guess there's lots of overlap.

i'd be interested to know how the patents work and how much use is made of them. does anyone know?

(btw, i admit my use of the word leech was slightly overdramatic. i do appear to be turning into kitten from big brother at the moment. "power to the people")


Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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i'd be interested to know how the patents work and how much use is made of them. does anyone know?

I'm a patent attorney so ought to know! We don't represent any food manufacturers (I guess most have their own in-house depts); I don't have any insider knowledge on this particular industry, therefore. I'm pretty sure however that it's used extensively -- I've just plugged "margarine" into a free database and it's come back with 1382 hits dating back to 1908.

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my biggest bugbear at the moment are the "finest" and "taste the difference" ranges where the supermarkets have recognised the "foodie" upswell and have responded with "better than the other stuff" lines. i was suckered in at first. oooh, a tomato that's grown for flavour i used to think. but what's a tomato grown for if it's not flavour? cost and transportability is the answer.

we've all ended up paying premium prices for produce that's allegedly better but is in fact food as it should be.

With absolutely no data to hand (a wonderful place from which to argue) my sense of price and quality is something like this:

Sainsbury's generic sausages, price £2/kg, quality mediocre

Sainsbury's "taste the difference", price £3/kg, quality a great deal better

Best sausages from London artisanal butcher (Dove's), price £4/kg, quality excellent

Best sausages from French artisanal butcher, price £6/kg, quality almost perfect

Similar differences would apply to fruit and veg. My greengrocer in France recently had cherries that were astonishing -- eating one was like drinking a cup of fine wine. But they were over €20/kg!

The "finest" and "taste the difference" products aren't perfect, but they are a lot better than the ordinary supermarket stuff. Fruit, fish, vegetables, meats from the local shops can be very good indeed, but they are super-premium products.

Some of the French supermarkets (even the mighty Carrefour) will have "store within a store" operations, where a local producer will set up a stand within the store and sell olive oil, olives, sausages, ravioli. Does anything like this happen in the UK? I haven't seen it.


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Some of the French supermarkets (even the mighty Carrefour) will have "store within a store" operations, where a local producer will set up a stand within the store and sell olive oil, olives, sausages, ravioli.  Does anything like this happen in the UK? I haven't seen it.

i think the main uk attempt at anything like that is the market concept from the supermaket chain beginning with s who i shall not name. they've tried to make it look they are selling artisinal products, but in fact they're just the same thing but in wicker baskets.

i am now insanely jealous of you jonathan. i didn't realise you had a place in france.


Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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With absolutely no data to hand (a wonderful place from which to argue) my sense of price and quality is something like this:

Sainsbury's generic sausages, price £2/kg, quality mediocre

Sainsbury's "taste the difference", price £3/kg, quality a great deal better

Best sausages from London artisanal butcher (Dove's), price £4/kg, quality excellent

Best sausages from French artisanal butcher, price £6/kg, quality almost perfect

Similar differences would apply to fruit and veg.

I'm equally devoid of data, but I would dispute your figures. I find that while for some things supermarkets are cheaper, for others they are much more expensive. The problem is that while my local butcher may be cheaper and better quality than my local supermarket, they are also several miles in the opposite direction, and not open at such convenient hours. When I can get there though they are cheaper.

I'm not saying that either price or quality follow a particular rule. For some things the supermarkets may even do better quality, though I now make a rule never to buy meat from Tesco since I spotted that their 'finest' range (which is supposed to be better) has an ingredients list for pork chops: their ordinary pork chops seem only to contain pork, but their 'finest' contain (if I remember correctly) glucose syriup.

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supermarkets basically leech off manufactuers and gain competitive advantage by taking the scientific research they've done and tracking how well a product sells before they make their own.

Does "Shopped" have anything to say about whether the food industry makes use of intellectual property protection (patents) to guard against this situation? I'd be surprised if whoever owns Utterly Butterly hadn't taken out a patent application -- assuming it really is a novel and inventive product that is.

Elements of "Utterly Butterly" might be patentable, e.g. its chemical composition and/or the manufacturing process. However a patent can't cover the concept of a margarine that tastes like butter (or whatever the hell the thing is).

So if someone uses an entirely different recipe to produce a similar looking/tasting product, patent law won't help Utterly Butterly. They might, however, have a claim for "passing off", the tort of misrepresenting your product as somebody else's. They'd have to argue that the new product was so similar that consumers would think the new product was made by the manufacturers of Utterly Butterly. Packaging, name and advertising would be key here.

NB it wouldn't be enough for the concept to be similar (or the same): there was a long running dispute over whether the makers of Jiff lemon could sue someone who manufactured a rival lemon-shaped squeezy thing full of lemon juice. The House of Lords held that (very broadly) the law of passing off can't be used to give manufacturers a monopoly over a particular concept; there has to be a misrepresentation.

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wow. fantastic information clerkwellian. this would explain why the supermarkets can do what they do....


Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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With absolutely no data to hand (a wonderful place from which to argue) my sense of price and quality is something like this:

Sainsbury's generic sausages, price £2/kg, quality mediocre

Sainsbury's "taste the difference", price £3/kg, quality a great deal better

Best sausages from London artisanal butcher (Dove's), price £4/kg, quality excellent

Best sausages from French artisanal butcher, price £6/kg, quality almost perfect

"You want data? We got data!" :smile:

Organic sausages

    * Sainbury's

      Helen Browning £8.50 kg

      Sainsbury's organic £5.50 kg

    * Pimlico Road Farmers' Market

      Dan Green - £6.50 kg

Organic bacon

    * Sainsbury's

      Eastbrook Farm £17.01 kg

    * Pimlico Road Farmers' Market

      Dan Green organic bacon £15 kg

Outdoor reared pork

    * Sainbury's

      Porkinson free-range pork sausages £5.75 a kilo,

      Duchy Original Free range sausages £6.73 a kilo.

      Sainsbury's outdoor reared back bacon £11.16 a kilo

    * Keith Bennett, Blackheath Farmers' Market

      Outdoor reared back bacon £10 kilo

      Outdoor reared pork and sage sausages £6.60 kilo

All from the London Farmers' Market website.

Basically, it looks like Sainsbury's is a little cheaper than the farmers' market equiavlent for some of these things, but not for others. But it seems to confirm Jonathan's idea that if you want a good product you have to pay more than the bog-standard supermarket price, whether you go for the Taste the Difference range or for an independent supplier.

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But isn't this just healthy competition? Someone comes up with a good idea (a four wheeled vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine) and everyone else copies it, and competes like mad, and we end up sitting in traffic jams all day ..ok, bad example.

But think of Covent Garden soup company -- they can't just sit around saying we have IP that prevents anyone else sell ing fresh soup in a Tetrapak carton, and if they do they have to pays us 50p a packet, they actually have to make good soup. This is a *good* thing, for me as a consumer. It's obviously bad for some producers, but I think the balance in this case between consumer interests and producer interests is about right.

I don't think it has anything to do with supermarkets, it's just to do with free markets, in general .

I don't shop in supermarkets, but that's because I have enough free time and money to spend a lot of time getting high quality food from small shops, and I live in London. A lot of other people don't feel that way, and that is why they choose not to go to the local shops but to a big supermarket which is superior in many ways -- convenience, choice, parking etc..

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But isn't this just healthy competition?...

Healthy competition suggests alternatives that allow people to make informed decision across a range of choices. The difficulty that many on this thread have expressed regarding finding an alternative to supermarkets just points out how one-sided the relationships between supermarkets and consumers is. The book goes into a great deal about how the relationship between suppliers and supermarkets even more so.

Covent Garden is a bit of a weird example - they are a (somewhat) well known brand in their own right rather than an anonymous or new supplier. Their "thing" is fresh soups, sauces and juices - not pastuerised, no chemicals. (Americans can make a similar comparison using Odwalla). Go into Satansburies and see their own label soups in packaging that evokes home-made, all-natural (natural colours, artistic imagery). Labelling laws, or the lack of them, allow them to use phrases that suggest they are as good for you as Covent Garden.

So the consumer sees what appears to be two very similar products for very different prices. Decision becomes easy doesn't it? At least it does until you look at the ingredients list.

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