It seems as if the ‘world of difference’ slogan of a popular retailer increases sales, but does not stand up to scrutiny.
The consumer action group, Grass, has Woolworths in its sights again for ‘misleading marketing claims and labeling’ on organic, free-range and GMO-free food products. Woolworths esd criticised before for sale of GMO ‘Frankenfoods’.
Grass says Woolworths claims a unique ‘ethical high ground’ with its ‘world of difference’ slogan that has increased sales, but doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The company says that’s not the case.
Lest Woolies feels unfairly targeted, Grass is also going for Pick n Pay, for its free range in-store claims, and says the company can’t be blamed for ‘jumping on the bandwagon since Woolworths has got away with it for so long’. Grass is tackling Pick n Pay particularly on its sow crate statement (watch this space for more on that.)
Here is Grass’s open letter to Woolworths CEO Ian Moir, with an abbreviated list of specific issues some of its customers want the company to address:
Dear Ian Moir,
Woolworths marketing and brand image has told South African consumers that you care about quality, social justice, animal welfare, the environment, and about your Woolworths customers.
We have welcomed and supported your perceived move towards free-range, organic, healthier, ethically sourced and animal friendly products. Your values appeared to reflect our own, and we trusted what you said on your labels and marketing material.
So, for many it has been shattering to discover that some of your labels, signs, adverts, and articles are extremely misleading, and that we have been inadvertently purchasing food containing battery eggs, consuming milk from barn-based cows, and food which contains high percentages of unlabelled GMOs. An example of this chasm between our expectations and the reality was exposed with both your eggs and dairy proclamations.
Regarding eggs, Simon Susman (Woolworths Holdings chairman, non-independent non-executive director) announced in 2004 : “From now on, no Woolworths laying hen will ever have lived or spent any of her life in a cage.” Your in-store signs proclaimed: “We think our hens enjoy having space to behave like hens should.”
Yet despite these statements, and the recent Good Egg Award received from Compassion in World Farming – battery eggs, to this day, continue to be used in your processed products.
Woolworths Ayrshire milk marketing consistently implies free range and pasture-raised. Your TV advert showed Justin Bonello in a field with cows grazing, and your Taste article stated “Ayrshire herds…spend their days in tranquil green pastures with access to plenty of good food and fresh, clean water.”
Yet it turns out that only 50% of Woolworths Ayrshire cows are pasture-raised, while the other 50% of the cows live in barns for most of their lives, where they are fed GMO feed.
Woolworths’ Organic milk label said : “Produced from cows that roam freely and graze in organic pastures.” The Woolworths Dairy Team admitted that this is not true either. These cows live and are fed inside barns for most of their lives too.
How can there be such a large discrepancy between what Woolworths says and what Woolworths does? And in light of these examples, going forward, can customers really believe anything that Woolworths says?
This continual misleading “greenwashing” and bait marketing of your food products also undermines the farmers who do achieve higher animal welfare standards, and are able to substantiate animal welfare and environmental label claims.
In this regard, we would like to challenge you, as a retailer who has built an image of a company selling high-quality, premium-priced foods where good animal welfare is paramount, to do two things:
- Apply the high ethical standards that are reflected in Woolworths marketing and brand image, throughout the entire product lifecycle, and not just at the final presentation phase.
- Be completely transparent, accountable and honest with customers in your labels and advertising.
As the CEO of Woolworths, we ask that you address these issues of integrity in a time frame to be agreed to restore the broken trust in Woolworths.
Among issues Woolworths customers who have contacted Grass want the company to address, and where they believe the company is failing to achieve acceptable standards of integrity, are:
- Use of claims with no legal or regulated definition, such as “no added MSG”, “no additives”, “no animal by-products”, “free range”, “free to roam”, “pastured/pasture-raised”, “rBST free”, “natural” etc.
- Mislabelling – labels should inform consumers accurately about how a product was farmed. For example, whether animals who spend the majority of their life in barns or sheds, such as the Woolworths organic milk cows and broiler chickens with popholes, at least have access to outdoor dirt lots or other vegetation; whether free-range really is free-range with accurate details; whether “pasture raised” animals walk on pasture and graze as they should. Organic labels should supply third party verification and detailed protocols on feed and animal husbandry and care; should state country of origin or geographic region should accurately state which preservatives, emulsifiers, colourants, flavour enhancers, or additives etc were used. And products which contain 0.9% or more GMO should be labeled accordingly, not just that they “may contain GMO”.
- Protocols – consumers should have access to detailed, published protocols of all animal-care standards, including slaughter review assurance, via the Woolworths website. If not, then please change the practice, not only the label.
- South African Pork industry standards are lower than EU, where sow stalls were made illegal in the UK in 1999, and the rest of Europe in 2013. Please offer Woolworths’ customers the choice of purchasing truly pasture-raised pork and supply details such as but not limited to: how long will sows remain in farrowing crates? The size of the farrowing crate per sow and litter? Etc.
- All mutilations must be avoided by better farm management. If essential, a painful procedure should never be performed without a veterinarian present, to administer anaesthetics and analgesia. Currently Woolworths dairy calves are disbudded without anaesthetic, causing needless pain and suffering to these young animals.
- Currently, Woolworths dairy calves are removed at three days old; this causes extreme distress to both mother and calf. Ensure that all Woolworth’s dairy calves remain with their mothers in the herd, suckling for a minimum of three to six months, until they are gradually weaned, but not before they are taking in adequate solids. Calves must not be kept in isolated pens, but be allowed to roam and graze in groups during the day, with a nanny cow, and sleep in groups inside barns or when the weather is bad.
- Woolworths should establish a policy for the “humane” slaughter of day-old male chicks with your egg farmers, or explore using breeds of chickens where male chicks can be raised as broilers, or capons.
- Transport and slaughter of all animals should be overseen by Woolworths, and monitored by CCTV camera, so customers can be certain of best practice.Woolworths also should not support farmers who use lethal methods of predator control, such as gin traps, poison, hunting dogs, etc.
- Woolworths sells fish on the orange list, and should cease this, or provide detailed protocols and third party verification. Woolworths should adhere to the SASSI (Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) labelling technique and not the company’s adapted signs. This is confusing to South African consumers since SASSI has set an industry standard.
By Marika Sboros. Source: BizNews