Britain’s biggest supermarkets stand accused of “bombarding” shoppers with offers of cheap meat, despite pledging to promote more meat-free diets to improve health and tackle global heating.
They are using money-saving promotions, such as two for the price of one, as a way of “pushing” meat, at odds with moves in the UK and globally for consumers to eat less of it, research found.
Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons are each offering scores of deals every week on meat products such as burgers and sausages to drive sales and boost their profits, according to a report from the charity Eating Better. It is an umbrella group representing more than 60 organisations including WWF UK, Greenpeace, public health bodies, dietitians, the RSPCA and food charities.
The report also discloses that only 1% of the many hundreds of multi-buy offers for meat products examined by researchers will be banned when the government’s crackdown on the promotion of foodstuffs that are high in fat, salt or sugar – to tackle childhood obesity – begins in October. Marketing of such foods will be outlawed on TV before the 9pm “watershed” and also online, though the food industry is trying to persuade ministers to delay or water down both plans.
“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,” said Simon Billing, Eating Better’s executive director.
“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.
“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 government-commissioned national food strategy, published last July, said Britons needed to reduce their intake of meat by 30% by 2032 in order to help combat the UK’s “plague of dietary ill-health” and the climate emergency. Such a dramatic fall was “significant and it won’t be easy to achieve” but was vital to help reduce methane emissions from livestock farming and free up land so it could be used to store carbon, it said.
While meat intake in Britain is falling slowly, people still eat almost double the global average. The food strategy also noted that “our taste for ruminants … is a major contributor to climate change”.
Major changes needed to be made to the national diet within a decade “to meet health, climate and nature commitments”, including Britons eating 30% more fruit and vegetables, 50% more fibre, 25% less junk food containing high levels of fat, salt or sugar and 30% less meat.
The government’s climate change committee has also said people should reduce their intake of meat by 20%-50% to help the UK meet its target of reaching net zero by 2050.
Eating Better’s report on the promotion of meat sales is based on research by the Questionmark Foundation, a European research institute based in the Netherlands. It examined all promotions for meat and fish that the four food chains put on their websites over five weeks last August and September. It found that:
- While Morrisons and Asda ran 1,490 and 1,352 promotions respectively, Tesco (948) and Sainsbury’s (933) ran many fewer.
- Asda and Morrisons run a lot of multi-buy offers for animal products, such as three for £10, three for the price of two and buy one get one free.
- Sainsbury’s uses discounts on meat products to persuade people to buy them.
“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,” said Billing.
“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.
An Asda spokesperson said: “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.” It ran fewer meat promotions after the study period ended in September because barbecues and outdoor eating declined, they added.
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “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.”
Tesco did not respond directly. But it highlighted the emphasis it had put on meat-free dishes in recent years, in line with changing tastes, including launching its own-brand Wicked Kitchen array of vegan foods and Plant Chef vegetarian range.