On Sunday night, the Tory MP James Cleverly tweeted a picture of his dinner. A lot of Twitter users do, often with lip-smacking comments such as, “Om nom nom” or “#yums”. Cleverly, however, had a bone to pick with Tesco, whose British beef short ribs he had bought. Having ripped off the label, Cleverly had discovered that what looked like one big chunk of meat was actually two much smaller ones, separated by an inches-wide gulf.
“I think this packaging is a bit cynical,” he tweeted. “If there is a good reason for that big gap, I’m happy to hear it.”
Tesco objected that “the price and weight of a product are always clearly labelled on the packaging”, but it seems to be the latest example of boundary-testing by Britain’s hyper-competitive food industry:
• In 2014, Which? questioned the “lightness” of McVitie’s Digestives Lights, which contained 4.5g more sugar than regular McVitie’s. Handily for McVitie’s, a “light” product needs only to contain 30% less of one key ingredient – and fat had been reduced by 32%.
• In 2015, Cadbury Fingers became the poster child for “shrinkflation”, when the company removed two fingers from the standard pack, taking 11g out of a box that Which? had already criticised for being mainly air.
• In 2016, the National Farmers Union denounced Tesco and other supermarkets for inventing farms to make their grocery lines sound more rustic. Of this trend, Marks & Spencer salmon brand Lochmuir – a body of water that doesn’t exist – is perhaps the most lyrical example.
• Tesco was also named “the worst offender” when the Sun compared the size of cereal boxes with their contents. Its Special Flakes filled only 51% of the box. Asda’s Smart Price cornflakes were second, at 57%.
• For many juices, a portion of apple or grape juice forms a cost-effective base upon which other flavours can be blended – after all, would you really want a “lemon and lime juice” that was 100% lemon and lime juice? But when is that base too much? Probably when it’s 87% apple, such as with Tropicana’s mango and passion fruit juice.