News
New Specialist Surveyor in North England

We are pleased to announce that we have recently added a surveyor to our network in North England, which means we now have a total of seven surveyors covering the UK.

 

Placed in and operating out of Sheffield, our new specialist surveyor will be ideally placed to cover surveys especially in the Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Grimsby/Immingham areas, even with short notice.

 

As with our other surveyors, our new associate brings with her vast experience from having worked with quality assurance and process management within the perishable sector for many years.

 

For an overview of our current surveyor locations, please refer to our

Surveyor Maps

June

2020

 
Ridding ourselves of plastic – a genuine possibility?

Comment by Carsten S. Jensen,

Founder and Managing Director of Jensen Associates

 

When it comes to the plastic pollution of our world, it has been known for many years that an island of plastic was forming in the pacific, yet it took Sir Richard Attenborough’s Blue Planet wake-up call to make us realise just how widespread the problem is, and how dire the consequences are – not only for our future, but right now.

 

Now wouldn’t it be great if we could just stop using plastic immediately, and the problem would be solved. Unfortunately, if we did that, we would create other problems that would be just as bad, or even worse for our environment. Also, plastics are used so widely in all kinds of products we buy that it would just not be physically possible to rid ourselves of it in one go. Even if we could, we would still have the mountains of plastic we have already “disposed of” to deal with.

 

If we take the food industry specifically, this is the segment which is currently facing the most criticism of its use of plastic packaging. BUT – is the current use of plastic always bad?

 

IT has to be appreciated that a lot of the plastics used in food packaging serve a purpose and has helped solving a very important challenge: How to protect and maintain food fresh. The use of plastic is for many products, as for example cucumbers and broccoli, key to maintaining shelf life longer and thereby allow for widespread distribution. It also means that we as consumers have more time to eat it, and hopefully end up wasting less due to it starting to go off before we had the time to use it. Indeed, we do have a problem with too much food waste even so, but I daresay that, should the supermarkets remove all plastic packaging from all foods, without having a viable packaging alternative to help keep food fresh, then we would see a very sharp increase in food waste as a result.

 

This being said, it is clear that large amounts of the plastic we currently find in the fresh fruit & vegetable aisles could be readily removed. I would estimate that easily more than 50% of the plastic could be removed immediately, either because it is entirely unnecessary, or because there are already viable degradable alternatives that can be practically implemented. But, it will have to be done in the right way.

 

Before any plastic is removed from a product, it has to be considered as well whether this will lead to excessive increased waste. The production of any food also has a CO2 – and water footprint. So, when the plastic is removed, it has to be ensured that it does not create an in-proportionate negative impact in other areas of environmental concern through increased waste. Also, what will the overall environmental impact be of the alternative packaging, in terms of energy use and footprints? We need to keep the bigger picture in focus as we face this challenge.

 

What I am afraid of here is that the non-plastic movement becomes hi-jacked and used mainly as a marketing ploy, and that we will end up with “solutions” that look good and convince the consumer that something good has been done, while at the same time creating a new problem, or simply shifting the focus.

 

 

Shifting to recyclable plastic is NOT a long term solution!
 

With the increased pressure on the supermarkets, many have pledged to substitute all un-recyclable plastic with fully recyclable alternatives within 1-2 years. This is certainly a step in the right direction – but that is all it is: It is not solving the problem. Even when we as a society become very good at recycling, we will never be able to recycle all of it. There will always be some plastic that is not recycled, even when it is possible to do so. In the BBC’s “War on Plastic” series that was aired over recent weeks, it was put very eloquently by the investigative journalist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, when he compared it to an overflowing bathtub: It is not enough to just keep mopping up the water, you have to turn off the tap as well. Recyclable or not, it is still plastic and the more we have in circulation, the more of it will end up polluting our world.

 

 

Polluting has a price - and so does finding a solution

 

Any kind of pollution has a cost: To the environment, to our lives and especially to the future of our children, who will take over a world with a lot more pressing environmental problems than was the case a generation ago. Likewise, we have to accept that solving these issues will not be cheap. A lot of money will have to be spent on research into alternatives for plastic, as well as on setting up workable recycling schemes, and cleaning up the world’s oceans. Eventually, this cost will be passed on to us as consumers in the form of price increases and taxes. Also, in this time and age where we are all focused on convenience shopping, we have to be prepared to be inconvenienced for the sake of avoiding plastic. It would mean that for some fresh food items, doing one weekly shop may no longer be enough, we would have to buy more regularly and in smaller quantities, and overall be better at ensuring that we end up eating what we buy.

 

 

Solving the problem takes all of us

 

It seems to me that the supermarkets are very often given the blame for our extensive use of especially “single-use” plastic. The general consensus seems to be that it is their fault, they should not have started offering it to us like that in the first place. Though I am often very critical of supermarkets and the way they act, both towards their suppliers and customers, it has to be said that when it comes to plastic, we as consumers have to accept our part of the blame as well. We are the ones who have been driving the move towards convenience, we are the ones who want to be able to buy strawberries when they are not in season, and exotic produce from all over the world. This created a need for finding a way to preserve fresh products for longer to allow for transport and distribution. Plastic packaging offered a solution, which we gladly accepted for many, many years.

 

There is not going to be one, single solution that can just magically be implemented from one side, be it retailers, producers, scientists, governments or private persons: All parties will have to do their part and try to tackle the problem with all the means we have at our disposal.

 

When it comes to finding alternatives, research plays a key role. It is encouraging that a lot of research is already taking place, both by packaging manufacturers and various research centers. This research is crucial and needs proper governmental backing, on a global scale.

 

With regards to all the plastic already in circulation, there are still a lot of un-tapped possibilities when it comes to re-cycling. As it is, we as consumers in the UK have sorted our waste for years now, yet most of what we throw into our recycling bins does not yet end up actually being recycled. Here as well research is required, but a lot could be accomplished by sharing knowledge with other countries and learning from best practices. In many countries, recycling of both glass and plastic bottles is encouraged by deposit schemes: You pay for the bottles and get a refund when they are delivered back. In Denmark where I grew up, this system has existed for over 75 years, yet in the UK it does not yet exist. Such options have to be pursued as well, and extended to other products than drinks. If, for example, we bought our washing liquid, pasta, maybe even meat in recycled and now reusable plastic containers, and the design of such containers were standardised, a workable deposit- and return scheme could be implemented across a number of products, ensuring that as much as possible of the plastic - and non-degradable containers we use end up in a closed loop. Where possible, we need to recycle plastic containers for reuse “as is”, rather than for re-processing.

 

Last but not least, we must come to terms with the fact that, just as for CO2 emissions, we need to work towards a world where we do not cause plastic pollution at all. There needs to be a genuine commitment not only to limit use of plastic, but also to “turn off the tab”, and set up targets for limitation of production of new plastic. Within the food industry, the producers and manufacturers have a key role to play, as do various produce organizations world-wide. From their side, they should be looking at sector-wide standards and codes of practice, and agree general terms for how they are prepared to sustainably present their product to retailers.

 

 

Plastic is here to stay - how it stays is up to us

 

We have to face a very inconvenient fact:  Now that we have spent 70 years bringing plastic into this world, we will not be able to get rid of it “just like that”. It will be a working progress for generations to come. In the meantime, we all need to do our part, and do our best, to manage the situation and not let it get more out of hand than it already has. That, in itself, will be no small challenge and will require an investment of time, effort and money from everyone. Whoever we want to blame for the problem, solving it will take all of us.

September

2019

November

2018

Perishable Product Transportation Seminar

Following the success of our seminar last year, Jensen Associates will be hosting a second exclusive two-day seminar on 20th and 21st March 2019, at the Crowne Plaza London - King’s Cross Hotel, UK.

 

This seminar will give the participants a unique opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge of how transport of chilled and frozen products is carried out today, and the many ongoing developments in this field. Among others, we will be discussing recent changes in temperature and atmosphere control, preparation and packing methods, remote monitoring in-transit and the challenges presented by the ongoing move towards greener, more eco-friendly handling and transportation. The full programme can be downloaded via the link below.

 

Here is what some of the participants on our last seminar had to say about it:

 

“Very useful and good seminar, exceeded expectations”

 

Yuliya Dementyeva, Seatrade Reefer Chartering N.V.

 

 

“Really helpful and interesting. The material was really useful

to take away. Great to have had other experts presenting

for different perspective and attendees

from different areas of the industry”

 

Laura Grant, The UK P&I Club, Thomas Miller P&I (Europe) Limited

 

 

“Very good to have a smaller group of people and thus

more discussion, and a good mix of people too”

 

Gillian Clark, The North of England P&I Association Limited

 

 

We are delighted to announce that the following guest speakers will be presenting at the seminar:

 

Dr. Anna Snowdon, Forensic Post-Harvest Biologist at Wolfson College, Cambridge, UK

 

Dr. Snowdon is the well-known author of “A Colour Atlas of Post-Harvest Diseases and Disorders of Fruits and Vegetables”. She has had over thirty years' experience of diagnosing the nature of deterioration in perishable cargoes and investigating the causes, whether pre-shipment or shipboard or a combination of several factors. She acts on behalf of P & I Clubs, cargo underwriters, importers or exporters, and in recent years has been particularly involved in banana claims.

 

Mr. Christopher Pratts, Partner at Clyde & Co LLP, UK

 

For the last 17 years, Mr. Pratts has specialised in marine cargo insurance and reinsurance disputes, principally in the field of policy coverage, defence and recovery/subrogation. Insofar as concerns recovery/subrogation work, a significant part of his practice involves perishable goods (fruits, vegetables, fish and meat products, dairy products, and pharmaceuticals). As a result, Mr. Pratts has a vast experience in this field, having been involved in various arbitration and court cases concerning perishable goods. One of these is a reported case in the UK, involving 57 containers of table grapes from Chile to Europe.

 

 

Ms. Mieke Claessens, Sales Support Coordinator at DeltaTRAK Europe, Belgium

 

DeltaTrak Europe is the official European affiliate of DeltaTrak Inc., USA.  DeltaTrak Inc. is a leading innovator of cold chain management and temperature monitoring solutions, with over 29 years of experience in cold chain management, environmental monitoring and food safety solutions.

 

 

The participation fee for the seminar will be kept at GBP 1,180.00 per person, the same as last time. Places at this seminar are limited to a maximum of 16 participants and will be allocated on a first come – first serve basis. To register for this event, please download and fill in the Registration Form following the link below, and return it via email to admin@jensenassoc.com

 

 

September

2018

January

2018

Survey Management Now in 100+ Locations!

When quality issues are found at delivery, lack of access to independent surveyors with the right expertise very often lead to losses becoming larger than necessary.

 

In answer to this and following requests from our clients, Jensen Associates offer a global survey management service, whereby we supervise and take control of the survey operation, when the required local expertise is not available.

 

Since 2011 where we began offering International Survey Management, we have arranged and managed surveys in more than 100 locations spread over 36 countries and territories as follows:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the benefits highlighted by our clients are;
 

  • No matter where in the world the survey is required, the process is controlled by one, trusted company with the right expertise and a proven track record.

 

  • Reassurance that surveys are handled professionally as well as independently.

 

  • Local surveyors are closely monitored to ensure they collect all factual information that may later be important to the claims handling.

 

  • We ensure that reports and vital information is forwarded timely by the surveyors, keeping good lines of communication.

 

  • When possible, the salvage operation is supervised to ensure proper loss limitation.

  • Australia

  • Bahrain

  • Belgium

  • Benin

  • Chile

  • China

  • Congo

  • Congo-Brazzaville

  • Czech Republic

  • Egypt

  • Finland

  • France

  • Gabon

  • Germany

  • Ghana

  • Greece

  • Hong Kong

  • Israel

  • Japan

  • Lithuania

  • Macau

  • Malaysia

  • Namibia

  • Netherlands

  • Norway

  • Oman

  • Saudi Arabia

  • South Africa

  • South Korea

  • Spain

  • Sweden

  • Switzerland

  • Thailand

  • USA

  • Vietnam

  • Yemen

November

2017

November

2015

Meet us at Fruit Logistica Berlin 7th – 9th Feb 2018

We will be attending the Fruit Logistica messe in Berlin, running from 7th to 9th February 2018. In this connection, Mr Carsten S. Jensen, Founder and Managing Director of Jensen Associates, will be giving a short presentation on refrigerated road transport at the Logistics Hub on Thursday 8th February at 3 pm, located in Hall 26. Click here to see the programme.

 

The event is free of charge for all visitors to Fruit Logistica. It will include a short panel Q&A session where attendees will be able to ask questions to the covered topics, should there be any issues they would like to discuss further.

 

Mr. Jensen will be visiting Fruit Logistica for all three days. Should you wish to talk to us during this event, please contact us to schedule a meeting.

Perishable Product Seminar hailed a Success

The seminar held in London on 9th – 10th November 2017 became two days of intense learning and very interesting discussions. Delegates from 5 countries and covering different angles of the industry - from P&I clubs and shipping lines to cargo underwriting - meant that there was a good basis for in-depth discussions about the various subjects, and the effects on claims handling and claims prevention efforts at different stages.

 

The feedback we have received from all delegates have been highly positive, it is very gratifying to learn that the seminar was so well received, and that the delegates have gained knowledge that will be very valuable to them in their future daily work.

 

For this seminar, we were fortunate to have three highly respected and very engaging guest speakers:  Dr. Anna Snowdon who gave a presentation focused on the banana trade, Mr. Graham Smith who shared his expertise within claims recoveries, and Mr. Gonzalo Robles speaking about Ethylene control during transport. Added to this, all participants were highly engaged and participated actively in the discussions. This was to the benefit of all attending, and enabled a much deeper understanding of the subjects, as well as relating the matters directly to actual scenarios that the participants have encountered, for example in relation to the interpretation of dataloggers, effects of post-harvest treatments, or a certain packaging scenario.

 

We wish to thank all delegates and speakers for attending this seminar, and making it such a fruitful event for everyone.

 

Should you wish to be kept informed directly about our next Perishable Product Transportation Seminar, please send an e-mail and we will include you on our mailing list. Our seminar mailing list is used for this purpose only, and will not be shared with anyone or used for sending any other advertising or information.

Jensen Associates appoints new surveyor in Scotland

In November 2015, Jensen Associates welcomed a new specialist associated surveyor in Scotland, located in Castle Douglas. The main areas covered will be Northern England as far South as Manchester, the Scottish borders and Southern parts of Scotland.

This is the first time we have established a presence in Scotland, which means we have now significantly cut our response time for reaching especially Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling areas. Our new surveyor is as well ideally placed to undertake surveys in Northern Ireland.


As with our other surveyors, our new associate brings with him vast experience within the perishable sector, drawing upon 40 years of managing Quality Assurance and Product/Process development.

 

All surveys in Scotland are coordinated via our London office and can be ordered via our Contact page, or alternatively by calling +44 (0)870 777 3875 (24-Hour) or by email to survey@jensenassoc.com

February

2015

September

2014

International Survey Management

In a drive to increase the overall quality of perishable surveys globally, Jensen Associates have now added Survey Management to the services we can offer our clients.

In short, what it means is that on surveys for perishable products at overseas locations, where our client may already have a surveyor locally that they wish to use, but also know that they are not necessarily reefer experts, we step in as expert survey managers.

We started this service in October 2011. Already in the first four months we have acted as Survey Managers, or Technical Correspondents, on several cases involving surveys in as diverse places as Chile, Brazil, Columbia, South Africa, Egypt, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Malaysia and Japan.

Our role as survey managers is to supervise the actual survey operation. We will check the level of product/reefer knowledge of the local survey company, and ensure they are given detailed instructions on how to conduct the survey. Any issues of special importance will as well be pointed out, in order to ensure all necessary facts are collected at the survey, in the right manner, and included in the final report.

In this way, we can ensure that our clients receive the best service from their appointed surveyor, and do not end up missing information that may later be vital for the claims handling.

With regards to the reporting, we will ensure that the local surveyor collects all relevant documentation as far as this is available, and reports back with both a preliminary report shortly after the survey is conducted, and a final report as soon as the case can be closed. Most importantly, we will stay in close contact with them throughout the process, to ensure the matter is given the necessary priority and that attention to detail is kept high.

We will also ensure that all involved parties are kept advised as and when required, keeping good lines of communication. The important part here is that you, as the client requesting the survey, should not have to chase anyone to get information. We believe that in managing the survey operation, we need to make sure information comes to you, timely and by itself, without you having to worry about whether the matter has been overlooked or pushed to the bottom of the pile somewhere.
 

Ten out of ten for Jensen Associates

Now in our 10th year of business, Jensen Associates has reached another milestone by adding the tenth consultant to our group of surveyors with expertise within the fresh produce and food industry.

The first quarter of this year saw the addition of two surveyors in central Italy. This was further extended with a surveyor in Northern Italy by the beginning of June 2010, at which time we also welcomed an additional surveyor in the British Midlands, bringing our number of surveyors covering the UK to seven in total.

Perishable Products is all we do

All our surveyors have been picked because they already have a proven track record and in-depth knowledge from having worked many years within the perishable industry, AND the right academic qualifications. In fact, all our surveyors are highly educated industry experts in their own right.

We are not trying to be a Jack-of-all-trades. The purpose of Jensen Associates has always been to focus on the international trade of perishables, and hence we do not undertake surveys of machinery, electronics and other "non-live" products. Fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, that's the stuff we know about, and that's where we offer our expertise.
 

Surveyor network extended to Italy

The Jensen Associates network of surveyors and consultants has now been extended to cover Italy as well. Already counting six surveyors in the UK alone, we now have two surveyors available working out of the Pisa/Tuscany area. By June 2010, this will be further extended to include one surveyor based in North Italy, after which we will be able to reach most parts of mid and Northern Italy within approximately three hours notice.

As with all our UK surveyors, each of our new consultants in Italy has extensive experience within the storage, packaging and transport of perishables. Their many years of working experience within the perishable sector is combined with relevant, high-level academic backgrounds, ensuring that they will be able to evaluate each case independently and apply the professionalism we require.

All surveys in Italy will be coordinated via our London office and can be ordered via our Contact page, or alternatively by calling +44 (0)870 777 3875 (24-Hour) or by email to survey@jensenassoc.com

 

January

2012

July

2010

March

2010

October

2009

Now don't forget the Water Footprint!

Carbon footprint and how to become carbon neutral is certainly all the rage right now. While many are already thinking about the other consequences of global warming, much of this tends to be overshadowed by the constant media focus mainly on the CO2 aspect. Which is indeed important, but even if carbon emissions were cut to zero overnight, certain changes are already affecting us, and will continue to do so.

One of these aspects is the water footprint. Fresh water for drinking and food production is already a rationed commodity in many of the key food production areas of the world, and this will only become more prominent in the years to come, assisted as well by the continued growth in world population. The question will not only be, will we have enough water, but where will the food come from!

These two will be closely linked together, as water shortages in the normal export areas for certain products will cause shortages in delivery. One example of this is the problems faced in the Murcia region of Spain in recent years, where water supplies have not always been a guarantee throughout the growing season, forcing many fruit and vegetable growers in one of the country's major production areas to abandon large parts of their crops. In turn water shortages cause the production to shift towards the areas who can "afford" to use water on their production. In short, food production will get increasingly dependent on the water availability, regardless of whether it is beneficial for the overall carbon footprint or not.

Murcia is just one place where this is already happening. The repercussions of this will be felt throughout the world, and in the UK especially from an import point of view. When calculating the UK's water footprint in relation to food production, and taking into account that all imported food is dependent on water availability elsewhere, the "external" water footprint contribute more than 50% of the UK total. With such a heavy dependency on foreign water resources, it is bound to have serious effects for the industry, and should certainly be a factor that the entire food trade should keep in focus.

While it is not practically possible to attain water neutrality in line with CO2 neutrality, efforts are being made to move the global freshwater consumption towards sustainable levels, the focus being on off-setting negative effects whenever possible.

A good place to find further details about current scientific research is the Water Footprint Network: www.waterfootprint.org

 

Hearts or Minds?

 

On September 18th 2014, Scotland holds the referendum that gives the Scottish people the unique chance to decide for themselves whether to continue to be a part of the United Kingdom or become a fully independent nation.

 

More than 700 years ago, one certain William Wallace would most certainly have welcomed this opportunity – and there can be no doubt how he would have cast his vote! In 2014, it is of course a completely different world, a different Scotland with a different set of altogether rather complicated factors to consider.

 

On one side, there is the chance to proudly stand up as an independent, entirely “free” country, which despite the many changes and uncertainties it will bring has a very exciting and also romantic allure to it: It would be the choice of the heart. This is set against the possibility of remaining a part of a greater structure of nations, which means continuing to relinquish some of the independency and decision making, but on the other hand retain the security of “knowing what you have” and avoid the uncertainties and costs of becoming independent: It would be the choice of the mind. True, this is to simplify the matter a great deal, but nevertheless a fitting description of the overall situation.

 

There can be no doubt that it will be costly for Scotland to become independent in the short term: Just transferring powers and setting up the necessary administrative bureaucracy will inevitably be a costly affair, which will take time and eat up a lot of funds before it is completed. If the result is a yes for independence, then this is a price Scotland will have to be prepared to pay. It is also inevitable that an independent Scotland would lose influence on the international political stage, which may also be felt by the rest of the UK in the end. That is of course not to say that Scotland would suddenly have no influence at all, of course they will, but more in line with other nations of similar size.

 

But then, what about the long term, will the investment earn itself back, will it be worth it? This is of course anyone’s guess. A more suitable phrasing of the question would be, can Scotland prosper and be successful as an independent country?

 

From here we would consider that Scotland will indeed be able to prosper and thrive as an independent nation. Yes, there will likely be international companies leaving because they wish to keep their presence within the UK, and there can be no doubt that this will negatively affect employment, trade and general commerce in the short term. But in the long term, Scotland will not be left to flounder by its neighbours or trading partners. They will of course have to look at any misgivings international companies may have to setting up or remaining in Scotland as opposed to elsewhere within the UK, and try to find ways to reassure them. Will an Independent Scotland be successful? Yes they will, with the tenacity of the Scottish people you would expect them to. Will they be more successful than if they remained part of the UK? Now that is a difficult question, and would certainly require a very precise definition of what parameters determine “success”. Many facts and figures have been presented to this end by both camps, but in truth it is something we will never be able to tell. Only one scenario will become known.

 

So, how will a possible Yes vote impact on perishable trade?

 

In reality, any transition will of course be gradual, so no matter which result, it is likely to be “business as usual” when Scotland wakes up on September 19th: People will still need to get food on the table, the supermarkets, grocers, wholesalers, butchers, fishmongers and all other traders will continue sourcing their product as they did before, shelves are not likely to suddenly become empty. Fears have been voiced that a yes could result in general increases in food prices, which has to be seen as a very real possibility, but not necessarily a given. It would to a large extent depend on financial policies, choice of currency and general economical factors as taxes, transport costs etc. It should however be remembered that Scottish trade with countries outside the UK in any case involve currency exchange, with the UK not being part of the Euro zone. In truth, should an Independent Scotland decide to adapt the Euro, there may even be certain advantages to be gained compared to the current overall cost scenario.

 

When Scotland goes to the polling stations in a few days time, it is likely to be a record turnout of more than 80% of eligible voters, and at this point the two camps are very evenly matched in the polls, with the result said to be “too close to call”. Whichever way the result falls out, one would hope that it will be decided by a significant majority in the end, albeit this does not seem likely at the moment. The significance of this referendum cannot be underestimated, and given that it is currently splitting the nation, it would appear likely that a large proportion will end up disappointed with the outcome.

Jensen Associates extends survey coverage to South Africa

Since January 2015, Jensen Associates now has a specialist associated surveyor in South Africa, located in Cape Town.

The main areas covered are Cape Town, other South African ports and inland locations. Further to this, our South African surveyor will be available to undertake assignments in most other African countries, and have decades of experience in solving complex issues related to transport of perishable products within this region.


Our surveyor brings with him vast experience within transport and storage of a variety of perishable products, stretching from tropical fruits to shipment of sushi-grade tuna in super-freezers. He has many years of hands-on experience with various transport systems as e.g. Controlled Atmosphere and Cold treatment during container transport.

 

All surveys in South Africa are coordinated via our London office and can be ordered via our Contact page, or alternatively by calling +44 (0)870 777 3875 (24-Hour) or by email to survey@jensenassoc.com
 

Which? Launch Super-Complaint against Supermarkets

Comment by Carsten S. Jensen,

Founder and Managing Director of Jensen Associates

 

It was reported last week that the UK consumer association Which? has launched a so-called Super Complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), on the basis of having collected a list of “dodgy multi-buys, shrinking products and baffling sales offers”, many of which we as consumers face daily when shopping in UK supermarkets.

 

The 24-page document issued by Which? Include numerous examples of supermarkets increasing prices for a few days, before creating a “special offer” at the old price, advertising of multipack savings where single product is cheaper, and decreasing pack content but keeping the price un-changed, to name but a few.  The list is indeed very long.

 

As a consumer I very much welcome this action, and hope it will be taken very serious by the CMA.  I can certainly recognise many of the problems they highlight, and the list is by no means exhausted, I can think of a lot more incidents that I have encountered myself, which are not directly covered in the Which? dossier.

 

One of the things that I personally find most annoying is to buy a product that has the packaging size I am used to, take for example a pack of chilled meat or cold cuts, and then find out that they have decreased the content – which in some product ranges have been done gradually and many times:  Chilled meat packs used to contain 500g in general, now the same packaging sizes contain anything between 400 to 485g.  The pack of parma ham may still contain 6 slices, but are now cut so fine that you can barely detach them, to lower the weight.  In my opinion, supermarkets should be forced to put a large warning on the packaging for at least 60 days, if they reduce content but keep the outer packaging unchanged.

 

And don’t get me started on the quality of the meat on offer in supermarkets.  According to them, they “give the customer what they want”.  Yes, that was true, once.  Back in time, when the small local butcher, baker, greengrocer etc. were still thriving, the supermarkets pulled us in by offering the same quality as they did, but at lower prices.  But now that they have converted us to buy these items in the supermarkets rather than from the specialist, what are they doing?  They slowly deflate our perception of quality, making us accept lower quality products which is cheaper to produce.

 

Nowhere is this more obvious than when you look at the meat on offer.  Any properly educated butcher with respect for himself will tell you that when it comes to beef, it is only properly matured when it has been hung for 28 days at least. Today, supermarkets have the nerve to advertise “15 days matured” steaks as being something good – even selling it as a premium range!  Well, compared to the 7-days matured meat they otherwise generally offer nowadays, 15 days is certainly better, but it is still immature meat.  It should really be considered whether it is appropriate to call it “matured“ at all.

 

Proper, 28-day matured meat is getting ever harder to come by in supermarkets, and is now regarded by them as something exclusive rather than the norm it should be.  And even for this, they are trying their best to lower it to 21 days.  The incentive for doing this is obvious:  Meat is sold by weight, and the longer it is matured, the more “weight” is lost as drip loss. It follows that every time the supermarket can make us accept a few days less maturity, they have increased the marketable value per unit of the product, at the same time as lowering quality and production costs.

 

Consumers slowly get used to the meat being less and less matured, we become used to see the meat being of a very red colour, and start thinking this is how it should look.  In other words, supermarkets have gone from “giving the customer what they want” to slowly grooming us into accepting and buying the quality they want us to buy.

 

Another thing that really gets to me is the slow but persistent replacing of known brands with the supermarkets’ own brands.  In every product range across fruit , cereal, juice, chips, pasta, dairy, ready meals – you name it, the trend is very clear:  Where possible, the supermarkets will produce their own, similar product and put it on offer next to the branded product.  As the next step, the shelf space for the branded version is decreased, and once they have convinced enough to buy their own brand instead, then the branded product disappears.

 

I find this trend worrying.  It may well be that the supermarket brand is initially of as good a quality as the branded version, but what happens when they have gained the consumers’ trust, and ousted competition?  If history is anything to go by, chances are that they will then look for ways of making the product even cheaper to produce, e.g. by changing the ingredients used in the production of a given product.  This is easily done, as an example, it would be very easy to exchange the chocolate used for a chocolate cake with a cheaper one containing less cocoa, or other minor “adjustments”, which the consumer will not easily detect;  It will only happen gradually, and the branded product we could otherwise have compared it to, is long gone.

 

 This may all seem a bit paranoid, but I have already spotted decrease in content for some supermarket brands after the branded products have been removed from the shelves, so I would say that the writing is already on the wall: If the supermarkets get to decide, quality of the “normal” product will continue to decrease, while the once “normal” product will suddenly become “Premium”, “Finest” and “Special Selection”.  The complaint launched by Which? is indeed a good start, but there are more supermarket business practices that need to be kept in check than the ones highlighted, to protect what is in the best interests of the consumers in the long term.

 

 

The full version of the Super Complaint is available to download from the Which? website:  http://www.staticwhich.co.uk/documents/pdf/misleading-pricing-practices---which-super-complaint-401125.pdf

April 30th

2015