The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) said it noted Tesco’s opinion that the ad would only refer to their issues but the statement “It’s about the whole food industry” would lead consumers to believe it involved all food retailers and suppliers.
The ad was entitled "What burgers have taught us" and stated: "The problem we've had with some of our meat lately is about more than burgers and bolognese. It's about some of the ways we get meat to your dinner table. It's about the whole food industry.
“And it has made us realise, we really do need to make it better. We've been working on it, but we need to keep going, go further, move quicker. We know that our supply chain is too complicated. So we're making it simpler ... Seriously. This is it. We are changing,” the ad continued.
Serious issue and listening to customers
Tesco said the two-page national press ad was published to show it was taking the horse meat issue seriously and to demonstrate it was listening to customers.
The supermarket chain said the ad focused solely on them, which is how the average consumer would interpret it, with wording such as "The problem we've had", "our meat" and "the ways we get meat to your dinner table".
Tesco submitted an opinion from an expert who said that the problem alluded to in the ad could and did affect the whole food industry, and was not limited to one particular sector.
However, one complaint from an independent butcher, said that the ad was misleading because it implied there were issues with meat standards across the whole food industry and it unfairly denigrated food suppliers who had not been implicated in the supply of mislabelled meat products.
Misleading in ASA view
ASA said that because the ad implied that retailers and suppliers were likely to have sold products contaminated with horse meat, and because relatively few instances of contamination had been identified at the time, it concluded the ad was misleading.
“We considered that despite the use of words such as "we" and "our" in the preceding sentences, the ad made a definitive statement, "It's about the whole food industry",” said the ASA ruling.
“We considered that the omission of "we" or "our" from that sentence made it stand out from the surrounding text and informed readers' understanding of the rest of the ad.
“Therefore, we concluded consumers would understand the ad referenced all food retailers and suppliers, rather than Tesco alone.”
However, the body said it did not question the integrity of other companies because it did not name particular suppliers so dismissed the second complaint.
“We are disappointed with this decision, but accept that the ASA has taken a very literal view of the wording in the advert,” said Tesco in a statement.
“We think our customers understood that our aim with the advert was to set out the action we had taken in relation to the horsemeat crisis and to acknowledge the fact the issue had serious consequences not just for Tesco, but for the whole of the food industry.”