You might have thought this the perfect time for supermarkets to go into overdrive on the green food front. After all, in the face of three separate crises – climate, obesity and cost of living – eating less meat and more plants is better for the planet, healthier and cheaper.
But a new report reveals the big chains are not seizing the opportunity to encourage shoppers towards the meat free aisle – despite the fact that many of them have committed to taking action to help all of us eat more nutritious grub and to protect the environment.
The Eating Better report, Supermarkets and the Promotion of Meat, based on research by the Dutch research institute the Questionmark Foundation, reveals that even as scientists, doctors, the government’s National Food Strategy and climate watchdog and a growing numbers of concerned citizens tell us we should be eating less meat, supermarket special offers such as buy one get one free (Bogof) and two for the price of one are encouraging shoppers to consume even more.
Based on what was being sold on the websites of the “big four” supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – for five weeks over August and September 2021, the report found Morrisons ran the most promotions for meat and fish (1,490), followed closely by Asda (1,352) – both relied heavily on three for £10 or Bogof offers – with Tesco and Sainsbury’s on 948 and 933 respectively, the latter preferring to discount its meat products.
The Eating Better alliance, of which MFM is a part, says supermarkets are undercutting attempts both domestic and international to get people to eat less meat by “bombarding” consumers with money-saving promotions on animal produce. Little has changed since last year, when a “supermarket scorecard” produced by Feedback, another member of the alliance, showed that UK supermarkets were continuing to drive up demand for meat. It called on them to slash their offers on animal products, but it seems that advice has been ignored.
As the report says: “These findings show that supermarkets encourage the purchase of more meat, which contradicts their climate commitments.” It recommends limiting how often meat and fish promotions are offered, and banning multibuy deals on red and processed meat.
Simon Billing, Eating Better’s executive director, said supermarkets were “putting profit before population health and that of the planet” by pushing cheap meat, and that 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 that is good for us.”
He added that “pushing cheap meat into our baskets” was key to propping up a system of intensive animal farming that is responsible for generating vast amounts of greenhouse gases and wasting land and water that could be put to use growing crops for human consumption.