Translating Tesco-speak on tinned tuna policy

Posted by Willie — 3 March 2014 at 2:23pm - Comments

We’ve nailed Tesco on being a Dodgy Dealer over tinned tuna. The issue was explained in Hugh’s last Fish Fight programme on Sunday night, but Tesco customers could be excused for being a little confused at what exactly is going on.

This is made worse by some of the comforting corporate lines that Tesco is churning out to customers on social media. So, because we understand that 'Every Little Helps', and are keen to cut through the bovine excrement, here is a handy guide to their responses:

The Greenpeace assessment is simply wrong.

No, it’s not wrong. Tesco is the dodgiest supermarket, cynically replacing own brand tuna shelf space with a new unsustainable ‘branded’ tin - Oriental & Pacific (O&P). O&P ranks as the least sustainably-caught tuna over-all. It is caught using destructive methods that result in large amounts of bycatch of species like sharks, rays and turtles.  

This makes a mockery of the spirit of the commitment Tesco made in 2011, as unsustainable tuna with the bitter taste of bycatch is still readily available in Tesco stores.

We moved much faster than many of our competitors.

Oh no, you didn’t! Tesco moved faster than some competitor supermarkets, but at the very least they moved slower than Sainsburys, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose & the Cooperative. This statement seems to use a strange definition of the word ‘many’.

We were one of the first retailers to move to 100% pole and line on our own brand tuna

This is a blatant lie, and Tesco really should stop saying this. Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and the Cooperative all moved to sourcing pole and line for own brand tuna first. Tesco is in fact one of the last UK retailers to do so.

We have promised to use sustainable tuna in other products like pastas, sandwiches and salads


Greenpeace’s assessment claims that we have "failed to promise to use sustainable tuna in other products" However this is wrong. We have committed to this and will issue a timetable for completing it shortly.

Well this is news. On Friday 28th February, as we were about to go live with our tinned tuna league table Tesco suddenly announced publicly that they had ‘made a commitment’ to extend sustainable tuna into sandwiches, salads and ready meals, and lo & behold they also produced a brand spanking new Fish Sourcing Policy on the same day! This new-found commitment is great, if belated, news, especially as all of the other UK retailers have already done this. But it’s an entirely empty promise until we have a timetable for the commitment, and it also has to be followed through! A promise to make a commitment is not a commitment, yet.

Since Fish Fight aired on Sunday 2nd March, they now seem to be promising a ‘timetable’ ‘shortly’. We wait with baited breath.

Oriental and Pacific is not a Tesco brand.

Correct. It is a ‘new’ branded product that has emerged since Tesco made their commitment to move to sustainable tuna. It started appearing on Tesco shelves first, at about the same time they were ‘meeting their commitments on own brand tuna’, and has since increased in range and volume across Tesco stores, throughout the UK. Oriental & Pacific is the least sustainable tuna brand in our assessment, and Tesco were the first retailer to introduce it onto their shelves. It’s little wonder customers are confused.

It’s a brand sold in other supermarkets too.

Many of our competitors continue to sell non-pole and line caught tuna.

This is really grasping at straws. Virtually all of the ‘non-pole and line caught tuna’ in other retailers is John West, Princes or O&P – all brands we have assessed and are talking to.

And surely saying other people aren’t perfect is a pretty pathetic excuse not to get Tesco’s own shelves in order? It's an excuse that seems more at home in a playground than coming from the UK's biggest retailer.

The branded Oriental and Pacific tuna flake product accounts for less than 5% of the volume of our total canned fish category.

Wow, curiously complicated response that tries to play down the amount of unsustainable tuna on the shelves in Tesco.

Firstly, this refers to only one tin in the O&P range. Tesco stock a few. Secondly, it gives the proportion as part of the total of ‘canned fish’, so it’s clearly a bigger part of the ‘canned tuna range’. Thirdly, Tesco is the biggest supermarket in the UK, with about 30% of the supermarket share. The amount of O&P on Tesco shelves is not insignificant, and Greenpeace activists across the country have reported that often about 20% of the tuna on shelves in store is O&P. That’s a lot of dirty tuna, a lot of unsustainable fishing, and a lot of dead sharks, rays and turtles.

Customers have greater choice of sustainable tuna at Tesco.

This is just plain wrong. Tesco stock John West, Princes and Oriental & Pacific brands. Of the latter, they stock more in volume and range than anyone else. Tesco also have the biggest share of grocery market and the most shelf space amongst retailers. Extrapolate that out and it is clear that Tesco actually offers a greater choice of unsustainable tuna than any other UK retailer.

We’ll insist O&P makes similar commitment to other branded suppliers who are working towards a more sustainable fishing policy.

We’re working alongside O&P to make a similar commitment to other branded suppliers towards a more sustainable fishing policy.

This raises a number of questions. Most notably, why not insist on a commitment to sustainability BEFORE you started stocking O&P tuna? It was clearly an issue that Tesco knew was a concern (after all they’d already seen the first series of Fish Fight!). Secondly – what does this actually mean? Thirdly – why is Tesco so confident O&P will change its ways for them? Brands like John West and Princes are currently trying to wriggle out of previous commitments, and defend the status quo, with a little cosmetic tinkering. That’s not good enough.

Tesco’s should simply take O&P off their shelves until it is sourcing tuna responsibly and sustainably, in a way that isn't also killing sharks, rays and turtles.

We have made sure our own brand tuna is %100 line & pole and we'll insist for others to do the same.

So does that mean Tesco will only stock O&P tuna, and indeed other brands, if they are sourced 100% sustainably? Looks like they need to clear O&P off the shelves until then, huh?

We are committed to having a sustainable supply chain, we want to be selling fish to our customers in 50 years’ time.

Curious. With its place in the market, and this concern, Tesco should be trying to lead the retail industry on responsible fish sourcing, but yet again it is at the bottom of the pile and being dragged along kicking and screaming. This commitment seems paper thin, especially when you remember that the impact of industrial scale fishing to fill Tesco’s shelves is not just felt on fish, but sharks, turtles, rays and other ocean creatures too. What sort of oceans do you want left in 50 years’ time, Tesco?

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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