Tesco’s Green Advice Draws Red Flag from Meat Industry

Discussion
Apr 26, 2010
Bernice Hurst

By Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

Sometimes a retailer just can’t win. There’s Tesco going along merrily minding its shareholders’ business and trying to do its best for customers by pointing out what not everyone knows – eating meat isn’t so great for the environment.

On Tesco’s Greener Living website, one suggestion for “What makes a recipe greener?” is “Eat vegetarian.” Tesco commented, “Vegetables use less energy to produce than meat. So eat vegetarian or vegan meals to reduce your environmental impact and lower your carbon footprint.”

Suggestions also included buying local and seasonal produce, re-using leftovers and cooking more efficiently.

Tesco’s vegetarian comments reflect longstanding concerns by environmentalists over methane emissions from animals (from which meat comes). Methane is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming gas, according to The Times. In an interview last fall with the British newspaper, energy expert and economics professor at the London School of Economics, Lord Stern, said, “Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.”

Nonetheless, Tesco has been loudly criticized, according to websites meatinfo.co.uk and farmersguardian.com. Both sites reported disappointment from the National Farmers’ Union’s livestock board chair Alastair Mackintosh, who said that it is wrong to look at a complex issue such as agriculture in a “simplistic way.” Mr. Mackintosh added, “UK agriculture takes the issue of environmental impact very seriously as shown by a number of initiatives such as the industry roadmap, and as an industry we continue to look at ways to further reduce our impact.”

For its part, a Tesco spokesperson explained that the advice was just one of many suggestions on how consumers “could cut their carbon footprint” and it was not the supermarket’s intention to convert shoppers to a completely vegetarian diet. He added, “Our Greener Living website offers a combination of facts and ideas to help customers reduce their carbon footprint.”

So it seems that “Tesco is proud to be the number one retailer of British meat” even though some may think that they want to sell less of it.

Discussion Questions: Did Tesco go too far in suggesting consumers try vegetarian or vegan diets for eco-reasons? How should retailers handle offering consumers helpful advice on “Greener Living” considering the potential conflicts with suppliers? Would it be better to maintain a discreet silence and let people decide for themselves?

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8 Comments on "Tesco’s Green Advice Draws Red Flag from Meat Industry"


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Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
11 years 18 days ago

Whether they went too far resides in where you stand around this issue. I give them kudos for bravery because what they are saying is actually true. Yes, they risk irritating some of the meat vendors–but they chose to do it anyway to represent a perspective that serves the greater good. Customers that love meat are going to eat it anyway. Those that don’t will give Tesco brownie points for connecting with their shared values.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 18 days ago

It does not seem to me that human nature invites directions, good as they might be, from grocers, parents or government. Of course, veggies are better for the body than meat, but the body frequently prefers meat. It’s emotional that way. Tesco is brave and well-meaning, and being No.1, it can afford to be. Perhaps that’s why the #4 retailer would never consider doing what Tesco is doing.

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 18 days ago

The fad now are all those “greenwashing” ideas to make a company look like they “care.” Most are throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks. Consumers will do what they want and usually can read between the lines of advertisements knowing the company is just trying to go with the flow.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 18 days ago

There is this huge push towards healthy living and while it is probably true that veggies have less of a carbon foot print than beef, I can’t see the summer bbq season without steaks and burgers. Tesco is out to make a profit just like any retailer so jumping on the healthy living bandwagon is normal. Organic food is slowly fading into a sea of products already available so this could be another fad. I did see a new margarine product from Becel just this weekend that is vegan approved. Could be a sign of the times? In the meantime, I will fire up the ol’ Weber while my wife chains herself to a tree. I wonder if it’s cheaper to buy my own cow? Cut ‘n save?

Tony Orlando
Guest
11 years 18 days ago

Most folks couldn’t care less about what others try to tell them to do. I’m looking forward to my steak dinner tonight, with my veggies as a side dish….

James Tenser
Guest
11 years 18 days ago

Sure raising meat has a larger environmental impact per serving than raising vegetables. The menace of bovine methane is not exactly new information for most of us, although it bears repeating now and then. Wasn’t it Vonnegut who worried in one of his early novels about “the world being destroyed by herds of fa**ing cows”?

As individuals reduce their frequency or quantity of meat consumption, they help cut greenhouse gasses a bit and may also improve their personal health. A truly shopper-centric retailer should probably embrace those values, even though it may also try to sell as much beef as it can. Cognitive dissonance rules in this business.

Margaret Slade
Guest
Margaret Slade
11 years 18 days ago

If a “Greener Living” website is designed to educate customers and help inform their shopping decisions, then Tesco what “just right” in what they did. They were obviously speaking to those shoppers who are interested in such topics–not to their entire shopper base–and I think those same interested shoppers appreciate the information and will reward Tesco with their shopping dollars.

Dan Desmarais
Guest
Dan Desmarais
11 years 17 days ago

Tesco did the right thing going after a specific market they want. This often means being willing to upset a few of your existing customers.

Many companies are trying to promote the “100 mile diet” and sell products grown within 100 miles of the store. Meat products tend to travel much greater distances and create more emissions on their journey.

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