A U.K. watchdog group is charging that grocers are duping customers by making up names for their private label food products to sound more upscale and authentic.
As an example, consumer advocacy site Which? noted that Marks & Spencer sells 11,000 metric tons of its 'Lochmuir' salmon every year, despite the fact that 'Louhmuir' does not exist. Tesco likewise sells thousands of chickens from 'Willow Farm' although the farm doesn't exist.
Which? said the use of a fake name "can create the illusion of a more personal shopping experience like a farmers' market or evoke images of a specific location. And with more of us interested in where our food comes from than ever before, clever branding can help sell products."
A survey by Which? in 2011 of 1,009 consumers found over half said they always or sometimes look at the source of their food. Seventy-two percent agreed it's important that source labeling is on meat and 73 percent said the same for dairy.
Reports in the U.K. press noted that there are no rules against using names of fictitious locations to brand products unless it has Protected Geographical Status (PGS). Items having PGS status include Stilton cheese, Melton Mowbray pork pies and Champagne.
But Which? said in its statement that the fake names follow a pattern of food makers using "marketing speak" and "creative language" to confuse consumers about the origins, ingredients and/or benefits of items.
Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said in a statement: "Some of the labels commonly found on shop shelves, while not illegal, hide the real contents of a product or are confusing to customers. The food industry must do more to make sure people get what they think they're paying for."
A Marks & Spencer spokesman told The Sun: "Lochmuir does not exist, however the name is a collective way of representing farms across Scottish regions."
A spokesman for Tesco told the U.K. tabloid, "All the Willow Farm chickens are British, from a number of farms — one called Willow Farm."
What's your view on using fictitious names on food products?