Waitrose to rebrand lamb products over origin concerns

Supermarket chain Waitrose has responded to the “unacceptable” labelling of New Zealand lamb branded as ‘Waitrose British’ by committing to clearer labels. 

In addition to new packaging, Waitrose has confirmed that it is discussing with its supplier the practicalities of sourcing more British lamb for its ready meals.

The products currently branded as ‘Waitrose British’ include Shepherd’s Pie, Lamb Hot Pot, Liver and Bacon and Lamb with Mint and Redcurrant, despite the fact that they actually contain New Zealand lamb.

Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said the concerns of the industry were made clear to Waitrose. “The inclusion of the word ‘British’ in the brand name despite the meat being sourced from New Zealand is misleading for shoppers – and it’s frustrating for British farmers, especially those who produce lamb Waitrose could have sourced,” said Raymond.

A spokesperson from Waitrose said that to ensure the provenance of the lamb in the meals was made clearer, stickers would now be on the front of the packs as opposed to the back. “We are about to relaunch the range with the branding ‘Classic’, removing the large ‘British’ reference from the front of the pack,” said the retailer.

“This was only ever supposed to denote the origin of the recipe, but we understand why confusion has arisen. In addition, we have challenged our supplier to explore the practicalities of using more British lamb in our ready meals. At the moment, because of our policy of only buying from our dedicated supply chain and using the whole carcase, we do not have sufficient raw material available to make this change but, nevertheless, we are exploring this option.”

The NFU has encouraged Waitrose to endeavour to use more British lamb, and has welcomed the progress it has made on the new packaging.

“After extensive discussions between the retailer and the NFU, we’re now pleased to see some changes made: on pack-stickers to clarify sourcing put in place in the first instance, with the long-term plan of a full rebrand to the ‘British’ product range to avoid confusion on sourcing,” added Raymond.

“During these discussions we urged the retailers to make the most of the high-quality British food products our farmers produce. This, we said, was the best way to celebrate British provenance with their customers. We’ll continue to push this message with Waitrose, and others in the supply chain, and relay any more progress on the back of the industry.”

The National Sheep Association (NSA) told Meat Trades Journal that while it is encouraged by the steps made by Waitrose, it should never have been a problem to begin with. “It’s unacceptable that this misleading branding was used in the first place and NSA welcomes this move from Waitrose,” said Joanne Briggs, communications manager and policy officer for England at the NSA.

“We would like to see the next step be to use more British lamb in these sort of products. In terms of fresh lamb, Waitrose has always been clear that it stocks British or New Zealand lamb at set times of the year, but NSA believes the UK season could and should be extended to provide customers with a home-produced product that supports farmers, the environment and rural communities here in the UK.”

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