Real Bread Campaign raises a number of concerns.
Since early July 2023, UK supermarket chain Asda has been running a major ‘Food Revolution’ advertising campaign across a range of media. It includes claims that a number of Asda own-brand products are ‘better’ than equivalents from ‘luxury shops’, asking “does great-tasting food have to cost more?” The claims are mainly based on taste tests conducted in May 2023.
Sourdough or sourfaux?
One of the products is Asda sourdough bread, which the ad campaign claims is 'officially tastier than Harrods'.
The ad campaign includes:
- A video, titled ‘hipsters taste sourdough’, uploaded to YouTube on 1 July 2023.
- A print advertisement published in Teesside Gazette on 8 July 2023
- An online advertisement, seen on 23 July 2023
- An advertorial feature, published by Metro on 31 July 2023
- A print advertisement, published in YOU magazine on 27 August 2023
The Real Bread Campaign has raised a number of concerns with the company about the advertisements for its sourdough bread, including:
- Claiming that the product is “baked in store from locally-sourced flour and it's all hand folded and hand finished.” This is despite reports in 2021 that the company was closing all of its in-store bakeries.
- Claiming ‘this bread is hardly your standard supermarket fare, with a craft process going back to its century-old heritage,’ despite Asda’s heritage only dating back to 1949 and no evidence of the UK sourdough revival starting before the early 1970s.
- Lack of clarity of whether a ‘fermented for 18 hours’ claims applies to just the sourdough starter or all of the final dough.
- It does not appear that specific product tested (1kg Asda Extra Special White Sourdough Boule) is actually available, leading to the possibility that people could be misled into believing the ‘better’ claims apply to one or more other Asda ‘sourdough’ products that are available.
- Available products that Asda markets as ‘sourdough’ include at least two that are made using baker’s yeast and additives, a practice the Real Bread Campaign calls sourfaux.
We also asked if the ‘stonebaked’ product is baked in traditional ovens built entirely from stone, ovens with natural stone soles, or ovens with no genuine stone in them at all.
The Campaign first wrote to Asda’s CEO on 29 August 2023 - see below.
17 November 2023: The ASA advised: 'We have now carried out an initial assessment of your complaint. We have decided that further investigation is needed.'
12 October 2023: A memeber of the ASA's complaints/investigations team wrote: "Please be advised that we are still currently considering the concerns that you have raised and me, or one of my colleagues will be in contact with you again to provide you with further information regarding your case."
26 September 2023: Asda responded: "Thank you for your patience whilst we looked into this with the relevant teams. We have gathered the information together and can confirm the Asda Extra Special sourdough boule which featured in recent advertising, is available in 228 of our stores and is correctly described as sourdough. If you are unable to locate this in stores, please speak to one of our colleagues who will be more than happy to help you find it. If you are needing a list of the stores it is available in, please let me know."
As the company had not agreed to remove the ads, or even answered all of our questions, we submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for what we believe are breaches of The CAP Code on non-broadcast advertising.
20 September 2023: The Campaign followed up for a reply.
13 September 2023: Asda wrote: "Just a quick email thanking you for your patience and letting you know all the relevant teams are working together to get all the questions answered, which you have asked us. Once I have an update from them, I will be back in touch."
11 September 2023: The Campaign followed up for a reply and received the following:
"I do apologise the delay in my response. Please be advised our legal and PR teams are currently investigating this and once resolved, I will be back in touch."
The Campaign replied:
Thank you for confirming this is being investigated.
Now that I’m looking further into the campaign across a range of media, I have found so much more to be unpicked.
This video includes the claim that Asda sourdough bread is “baked in store from locally-sourced flour and it's all hand folded and hand finished.”
How many stores does Asda operate, at how many of these is the advertised product available and in how many of those stores is the product hand folded, hand finished and then baked from scratch? Our understanding is that Asda closed all of its in-store bakeries in 2021.
Another finding is a Metro advertorial in this campaign.
It claims: ‘This bread is hardly your standard supermarket fare, with a craft process going back to its century-old heritage. We’re not dealing with a run-of-the-mill baker’s yeast, but sourdough starter with an eight-year heritage and made with flour from the Cotswolds, fermented for 18 hours and stonebaked.’
So which is true, that the product is made from flour sourced locally to each store in which it is baked; or made in each store from flour that (with the exception of stores in the Cotswolds) is not locally-sourced; or actually not baked in Asda stores at all but made at a central production unit somewhere and then transported to your stores? If this is the case, are they fully-baked at the CPU, or part-baked there and then re-baked in your stores to brown and crisp the crusts?
As Asda was founded in 1949, the ‘century-old heritage’ claim suggests the truth is this product is made for, rather than by, Asda. If this is the case, whose heritage is Asda co-opting? Which company that been making sourdough bread in the UK for 100 years makes this product? Our understanding is that the earliest evidence of the UK sourdough revival only dates back to the early 1970s. Given the eight-year ‘heritage’ of the starter, is this product made by a 100 year old company that started making sourdough bread eight years ago?
Is it just the sourdough starter that is fermented for 18 hours, or all of the final dough? Is this product baked in traditional ovens built entirely from stone, ovens with natural stone soles, or ovens with no genuine stone in them at all?
Can you give me an ETA on your answers to these, and the previous, questions please?
5 September 2023: The Campaign wrote:
Thank you for this information but the issue is that Asda is running a marketing campaign about a product that does not appear to be available.
Our concern is that, in the specific product’s absence, shoppers might be left or led to believe that the ‘better’ claim applies to one or more products that are available.
The three ‘Asda Extra Special’ branded products that you have indicated (the fourth is manufactured by Warburtons) all have different compositions:
ASDA Extra Special White Sourdough (500g): Fortified Wheat Flour [Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin (B3), Thiamin (B1)], Water, Rye Flour, Rapeseed Oil, Salt, Flour Treatment Agent (Ascorbic Acid), Wheat Flour.
ASDA Extra Special White Sourdough (400g): Fortified Wheat Flour [Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin (B3), Thiamin (B1)], Water, Rice Flour, Salt, Wholemeal Wheat Flour, Wheat Meal Flour, Rapeseed Oil.
ASDA Extra Special White Sourdough Rolls: Fortified Wheat Flour [Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin (B3), Thiamin (B1)], Water, Wheat Fibre, Rapeseed Oil, Fermented Wheat Flour, Salt, Wheat Flour, Emulsifiers (Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids, Mono- and Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids), Yeast, Fermented Rye Flour, Palm Oil, Palm Fat, Flour Treatment Agent (Ascorbic Acid), Wheat Flakes.
As such, even if one of these is the same as the advertised product, but in a different size, not all three are. We therefore believe that the campaign is misleading. Will Asda please withdraw the adverts?
A further point: genuine sourdough bread is made without additives and leavened only using a live sourdough starter culture and no other raising agents. Any product made using additives and/or other raising agents, but named or marketed using the word sourdough, is what the Real Bread Campaign calls sourfaux.
Will Asda please either remove the word sourdough from the name and marketing of the first and third of the products above, or (better still) remove the E300 from the former and baker’s yeast from the latter?
I look forward to your answers to these two questions.
5 September 2023: A representative of the CEO's office wrote:
"I am empowered by the board of directors to respond on their behalf.
Thank you for bringing this to attention that you are unable to obtain any ASDA Extra Special White Sourdough and I would like to apologise for the late reply.
I have managed to find four different products for the special white sourdough, please see the following link - https://groceries.asda.com/search/Asda%20Extra%20Special%20White%20Sourdough%20?cmpid=ahc-_-ghs-_-asdacom-_-hp-_-search-asda-extra-special-white-sourdough-
But as you stated, I am unable to see the 1KG size. Please can you inform me of your nearest stores and I can check to see when it will be back in stock, if you are unbale to buy this near you."
4 September 2023: The Campaign followed up for a reply.
29 August 2023: The Real Bread Campaign wrote to Asda's CEO:
We have noticed a series of advertisements by Asda across a range of media that include claims regarding one of your own-brand ‘sourdough’ products. An example of the claims you are making in this campaign is that ‘the majority of people said that Asda’s White Sourdough Boule is tastier than Harrods’.’
When we first spotted the advertisements a few weeks ago, we visited the verification page on the Asda website and found that this claim relates specifically to 66 of 103 people saying that Asda Extra Special White Sourdough (1kg) was better than a Harrods’ product. We then searched your website but could not find this specific product. We have since looked again twice but not found the product.
Our concern is that, if this product is not available, people could be misled into believing the ‘better’ claims apply to one or more other Asda ‘sourdough’ products that are available.
Is Asda Extra Special White Sourdough (1kg) available at any Asda stores and, if so, how many of them? If not, will you please withdraw the advertisements?
Published 11 Sep 2023
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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