News Real Bread Campaign

Co-op 'freshly prepared' sourfaux marketing concerns

Real Bread Campaign calls for investigation.

Part-baked truths?. Credit: Chris Young / www.realbreadcampaign.org CC-BY-SA-4.0

Part-baked truths?. Credit: Chris Young / www.realbreadcampaign.org CC-BY-SA-4.0

On 30 January 2024, the Real Bread Campaign wrote to Co-op CEO Shirine Khoury-Haq with concerns about the company's marketing of its 'Co-op Irresistible white sourdough baguette.'

Retailing at £1.50, the product costs 25% more than a baguette Co-op markets without the freshness and sourdough claims.

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The letter

We have concerns regarding a product in the ‘Co-op Irresistible’ range that your company markets as a ‘white sourdough baguette’.

Freshness claim

As indicated by the label stating this product is ‘produced for’ (rather than by) Co-op, we understand that it is manufactured by a third party at an unspecified location, then merely re-baked in Co-op stores. 

Food Standards Agency guidance states that: ‘Terms such as “freshly baked”, “baked in store” and “oven fresh” may mislead consumers into believing that they are being offered products that have been freshly produced on site from basic raw materials. Some stores sell bread made from part-baked products that have been packed in an inert atmosphere or frozen off-site then “baked off” at in-store bakeries. Use of terms like “freshly baked”, “baked in store” and “oven fresh” on these products could potentially infringe the general legal provisions referred to [earlier in the guidance notes]’

By marketing this re-baked product as ‘freshly prepared’ (three times on the front-of-pack label, and across more than 40 lines of text on the sides of the packaging), we believe that Co-op is not adhering to the official guidance. 

Will Co-op please remove this freshness claim?

Ingredients declaration

By law, four so-called fortificants must be added to all non-wholemeal wheat flour sold in the UK. Declaring them on ingredients lists of products made with ‘fortified’ flour is also mandatory. 

Why are the four mandatory flour ‘fortificants’ not listed on the label of this non-wholemeal flour product?

Sourfaux

Co-op includes the word ‘sourdough’ in this product’s name and markets it with claims including: ‘made with a 12-year-old starter dough for a delicious depth of flavour’.

Rather than an ingredient, flavour or style, sourdough is a process. The process of making genuine sourdough bread does not involve any additives or flavourings, and the only leavening/raising agent used in the process is a live sourdough starter culture.

This product’s list of declared ingredients is: wheat flour, water, sourdough (wheat flour, water), dehydrated devitalized wheat sourdough (water, wheat bran, wheat flour, wheat sourdough), salt, yeast, wheat protein, malted wheat flour, flour treatment agent (ascorbic acid).

Will Co-op please either remove the baker’s yeast, additive and dead sourdough powder from the recipe, or remove the word sourdough from this product’s name and marketing?

Updates

13 February 2024: Manchester City Council replied: 'I have received your complaint and have reached out to the Co-Op for a response. Once I have received a response I will review the matter and provide a response outlining our position.'

7 February 2024: We wrote to Manchester City Council, which has the Primary Authority relationship for trading standards with Co-op.

'We have concerns regarding labelling and marketing of a product in the ‘Co-op Irresistible’ range that the company advertises as a ‘white sourdough baguette’ and so sent [a copy of the original letter] to Co-op's CEO.

As you can see in the company’s reply below, Co-op has not addressed the question of the so-called fortificants not appearing on the ingredients list, or the issue of what we believe to be the inappropriate and misleading use of the word sourdough. 

With regard to FSA guidance on freshness claims, we think Co-op’s response suggests the company’s attitude is: ‘What the customer doesn’t know won’t hurt them and nobody has challenged us on it before. Everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t we?’

Will you please investigate these three areas of concern and take action as necessary?'

6 February 2024:  Co-op replied: 'Thanks for your email to Shirine Khoury-Haq, Co-op Chief Executive, my name is [XXX] and your email has been passed onto the Executive Resolution Team to reply on her behalf.  

Thank you for sharing your concerns regarding the term Fresh on our In store Bakery (ISB) bread. 

We feel we would need to include the ISB category team in any decision, so technical, buying and product development. When this was discussed earlier in the year the category did present back evidence to demonstrate our approach (which has been in place for a number of years) is consistent with the rest of the market and some of those retailers offer a similar operation to us (i.e. part-baking in store, not producing in store from scratch).

We have not yet encountered any other knowledgeable stakeholders that share the same view. There is no specifically worded legislation that bans the approach we are taking and we have not received an enforcement challenge on this issue. In addition, there is no detriment to the bread by having it frozen and then baked off in store. It is not illegal, or impossible for any bakery to prepare dough in advance and store dough prior to baking. When this happens at a factory bakery the consumer would never know this is happening and it has never been identified as a cause for concern.

We would like to thank you for sharing your personal interpretation of the law, which you are entitled to hold however there are different interpretations and we believe that different interpretation we have is just as valid as yours and we can confidently say it is not illegal or mis-representative. We are legal in our labelling, and any areas that remain contentious we have the support of our Primary Authority to continue for the time being as is.'

See also

Published Wednesday 31 January 2024

Real Bread Campaign: The Real Bread Campaign finds and shares ways to make bread better for us, better for our communities and better for the planet. Whether your interest is local food, community-focussed small enterprises, honest labelling, therapeutic baking, or simply tasty toast, everyone is invited to become a Campaign supporter.

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