News Real Bread Campaign

Freshly faked by Sainsbury’s?

The Real Bread Campaign submits a trading standards complaint.

Loaf tanning salon. Credit: Chris Young / www.realbreadcampaign.org CC-BY-SA-4.0

Loaf tanning salon. Credit: Chris Young / www.realbreadcampaign.org CC-BY-SA-4.0

The Real Bread Campaign believes that Sainsbury’s ‘in-store bakery’ marketing is misleading and breaches consumer protection regulations. On Monday 10 June 2024, the Campaign submitted a complaint to Oxfordshire County Council, which has the Primary Authority relationship with Sainsbury’s for trading standards.

Introduction

The UK’s second largest supermarket chain markets its ‘bakery’ section products using claims including ‘freshly made every day’ and ‘freshly baked bread’. Bags for the company’s ‘Taste The Difference’ range state: 'Our speciality breads are freshly baked in store every day...' To reinforce these messages, the company displays the products in ways that are distinctly different from merchandising in the rest of the store.

The Real Bread Campaign has found that Sainsbury’s uses such marketing at stores where no bread is freshly made from scratch on site, instead re-baking products that were manufactured elsewhere. 

Sainsbury’s current programme of switching from ‘scratch baking’ (making products from basic ingredients) to ‘bake off’ (merely re-baking bread that was manufactured elsewhere) means that the claims are increasingly unrepresentative of the company’s ‘in-store bakeries’ in general.

The company refused to give direct answers to questions about whether it uses such claims to market products that were previously frozen or manufactured outside the UK.

To be clear, this complaint is not that Sainsbury’s is making cheap products widely available, it is about how the company is marketing them.

A re-baked product is not freshly made or freshly baked

FSA guidance states: ‘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…’ 

These provisions include Regulation (EC) No 178/2002, which states that ‘it is a general principle of food law to provide a basis for consumers to make informed choices in relation to food they consume and to prevent any practices that may mislead the consumer.’ More specifically, Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 requires that ‘food information shall not be misleading, particularly: (a) as to the characteristics of the food and, in particular, as to its nature, identity, properties, composition, quantity, durability, country of origin or place of provenance, method of manufacture or production.’

Sainsbury’s uses the claims ‘freshly made’ and ‘freshly baked in store’ at stores in which pre-made ‘bread’ products are merely loaded into what we call loaf tanning salons - ovens in which they’re re-baked to brown and crisp the crust.

Alongside ‘bread’ products, pastries might be made elsewhere and receive their first baking in a Sainsbury’s store but this is still not what the average consumer would understand ‘freshly made’ to mean. 

As no ‘bread’ product is ‘freshly baked’ or ‘freshly baked’ in such stores, the Campaign believes that Sainsbury’s use of these claims to market them is misleading and breaches the regulations.

Sainsbury’s evasiveness

To ascertain the general picture, the Campaign emailed Sainsbury’s customer services on 3 June but received no reply. The Campaign also emailed the company’s press office, asking the following questions:

  1. How many stores does Sainsbury’s operate in the UK?
  2. At how many of these stores are all bread products in the in-store 'bakery' section made fresh from scratch on site?
  3. At how many of these stores are all bread products in the in-store 'bakery' section made elsewhere and then re-baked in-store?
  4. At how many of these stores are bread products in the in-store 'bakery' section a mix of lines made and baked fresh from scratch on site, and lines made elsewhere and then re-baked in-store?
  5. How will these numbers change following the recently-announced switch ‘to a more efficient way of freshly baking products in-store [and] plans to move more stores to this model’?
  6. How do shoppers find out whether or not all bread products in the 'bakery' section of a particular store are made and baked fresh from scratch on site?
  7. Are any products in the in-store ‘bakery’ section made outside the UK and, if so, which ones are made where?
  8. Does Sainsbury’s still operate a bakery college and, if so, how many people a year does it have the capacity to train?

Other than saying that the company operates ‘597 supermarkets and 834 convenience stores’, the press office repeatedly refused to give direct answers to the questions, responding only in generalities:

  • ‘The bakery methods we use will vary and will depend on a variety of factors so we wouldn’t break this out further.’ 
  • ‘Following the review of our bakery services and recipes earlier this year, more of our stores will use the bake-off method.’
  • ‘Our bakery items are clearly labelled in line with legislation and trading standards.’
  • ‘We continue to run a bakery college and the number of colleagues [it trains] will fluctuate annually.’

Combined with the Campaign’s observations and information in baking industry press, the refusal to provide specific answers to specific questions leads the Campaign to believe that there are facts that Sainsbury’s would prefer customers not to know. These might include:

  • The ‘in store bakeries’ at many Sainsbury’s stores make nothing from scratch on site.
  • Most - perhaps all – of Sainsbury’s ‘in store bakeries’ sell a number of products that were manufactured elsewhere and baked, or merely re-baked, in-store.
  • Some ‘in store bakery’ products are manufactured and frozen, before being transported to stores
  • Some ‘in store bakery’ products are manufactured outside the UK.
  • Sainsbury’s chooses not to declare any of the above on product packaging, shelf / in-store displays, or on its website.

Additionally, the Campaign suspects that the company’s current bakery college has a far smaller capacity than its predecessor because the company has made so many skilled baker roles redundant, and plans more cuts.

The Campaign presented these beliefs to the press office, once more asking for the facts to correct any of the statements that are untrue. The company did not say that any statement was untrue, instead repeating their previous general statements.

Unrepresentative of Sainsbury’s stores generally?

The Campaign believes that Sainsbury’s marketing is not only misleading in specific stores, but also increasingly misleading when considering the company as a whole. 

Loading pre-made products into ovens to be re-baked can be done by anyone with minimal training and experience as it only requires a very basic level of knowledge and skill. In 2010, Sainsbury’s opened a bakery college, moving it in January 2017 to a new site that could train up to 600 bakers a year, but then closed it in March 2021. The company refused to say what the capacity of its current college is but the Campaign suspects it is lower. In March 2024, the company that it would ‘simplify’ the bakeries in 54 stores and, as noted above, after a recent review ‘more of our stores will use the bake-off method.’

Clearly, bread is not ‘freshly baked’ or ‘freshly made’ every day at all Sainsbury’s sites about which these claims are made, and the percentage of stores for which these are accurate statements is diminishing rapidly.

Facts frozen out?

Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 requires that: ‘The name of the food shall include or be accompanied by particulars as to the physical condition of the food or the specific treatment which it has undergone (for example, powdered, refrozen, freeze-dried, quick-frozen, concentrated, smoked) in all cases where omission of such information could mislead the purchaser.’ 

Sainsbury’s sells products that were made, baked and then frozen at one site, to be transported to and re-baked at another. The Campaign believes that doing so, without declaring at point of sale (or on its website) that this has taken place, breaches this regulation. The Campaign also believes it breaches section 6 on misleading omissions of The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 in that ‘the commercial practice omits material information’, which Sainsbury’s compounds by stating that such products are ‘freshly baked’ and ‘freshly made’ in store.

Shoppers have the right to know if a product has been re-baked as the process uses around twice as much energy as baking a product once and so can have a negative environmental impact. Re-baking also has a negative impact on the quality of a product in that it is likely to stale more quickly than genuinely fresh bread that has only been baked once. This has potential for negative environmental impact as it increases the risk of food waste in the home, at a financial cost to the shopper.

Misleading merchandising?

Sainsbury’s ‘bakery’ section displays include wicker baskets and industrial grey shelves with wooden edging. These are markedly different from the painted white metal shelves used in the rest of the store. 

Article 16 of Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 requires that the: ‘presentation of food or feed, including their shape, appearance or packaging, the packaging materials used, the manner in which they are arranged and the setting in which they are displayed, and the information which is made available about them through whatever medium, shall not mislead consumers.’ 

The Campaign believes that Sainsbury’s presenting re-baked factory products as if freshly made in an artisan bakery style breaches this regulation, particularly as it amplifies - and is amplified by – the ‘freshly made in store’ and ‘freshly baked in store every day’ claims, in a mutually-reinforcing marketing echo chamber.

Unfair competition?

As previously noted, in order to benefit from the economy of scale of centralised manufacture, Sainsbury’s is running a programme of closing in-store scratch bakeries and so making many skilled bakery roles redundant. This, combined with being able to profit from thousands of high margin, non-bakery items, allows the company to sell ‘in-store bakery’ products at low prices. The company, however, still markets mass-produced, re-baked items using claims and merchandising that will lead the average consumer to believe the products have been freshly made from scratch on site by skilled bakers, as they are in small bakeries. 

The Campaign believes that Sainsbury’s marketing represents unfair competition with these small, independent businesses that create skilled, meaningful jobs, and help to keep money circulating in local economies.

A long time ago in a bakery far, far away?

Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 requires that: ‘The indication of the country of origin or of the place of provenance of a food should be provided whenever its absence is likely to mislead consumers as to the true country of origin or place of provenance of that product.’ The regulation goes on to state: ‘In all cases, the indication of country of origin or place of provenance should be provided in a manner which does not deceive the consumer and on the basis of clearly defined criteria which ensure a level playing field for industry and improve consumers’ understanding of the information related to the country of origin or place of provenance of a food.’

The Campaign questions whether, in common with some other multiple retailers, some of Sainsbury’s ‘bakery’ section products are made outside the UK, but not declared on labels or point of sale displays. The ‘country of origin’ sections of bakery product pages on the company’s website (headed by a ‘fresh from our ovens’ banner) merely say that items are ‘packed in United Kingdom’ [our italics], rather than saying where they are made. 

If Sainsbury’s is selling re-baked products that were manufactured outside the UK, without disclosing their true origins, the Campaign believes that the company is depriving shoppers of important information that further contributes to unfair competition with bakeries that make bread fresh from scratch in the UK. If Sainsbury’s is misleading customers by omission in this way, the Campaign further believes that the company’s claims and merchandising serve to reinforce the breach of regulations.

See also

Help us expose the (not so great) British fake off

Updates

12 June 2024: Sainsbury's customer services replied to our 3 June email: 'I'm sorry to advise that the specific information you're looking for isn't available, any information that is available to our customer is on our product packaging or online at Sainsburys.co.uk'

 

Published Monday 10 June 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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