Lidl is now labelling its chicken with detailed information about method of production. But not everyone is happy.
By Rachael Porter
Lidl GB’s trial launch of a method-of-production meat labelling system, which it claims will improve transparency for customers, has had a mixed reception.
Industry bodies are wary of a system that could create more confusion, rather than adding clarity. Animal welfare organisations have applauded the move. And Red Tractor’s response has been positive, if a little muted.
The labelling system has been introduced across Lidl’s fresh chicken products, after research showed that 71% of shoppers want retailers to be more transparent about how the fresh chicken they buy was reared. If it’s successful, the labels could be rolled out across other meat products.
The move follows the success of a similar labelling scheme introduced by Lidl in Germany in 2018, which has led to wide-scale adoption across the industry.
Lidl GB claims that it will ‘combat consumer confusion’ about how the fresh chicken that UK customers buy was reared, by including details that have not previously been declared by supermarkets on pack.
“To give our customers the confidence that welfare standards are being maintained, we feel it’s important to provide them with very clear, objective information about how the meat was produced to enable them to make an informed purchase decision,” said Lidl GB’s Ryan McDonnell.
But the British Poultry Council begs to differ. Commenting on method-of-production labelling in general, BPC’s Shraddha Kaul said that such labelling may actually add to consumer confusion.
“It can be misleading and confusing,” she said. “And labelling produce as being either ‘indoor’ or ‘outdoor’ is an oversimplification that infers that indoor is ‘bad’ and that ‘outdoor’ is good. It implies that free range and organic are better in terms of welfare. But that’s not always the case.”
Kaul agrees that consumer research should be the starting point for any new labelling system: “But the starting point of that research should be to determine consumers’ understanding and knowledge of production systems and what specific terms, such as ‘outdoor’ or ‘free range’ mean to them.
“Consumer knowledge of livestock production systems is often lacking – or they’re misinformed. So labelling meat according to its method of production is, at best, meaningless and, at worst, misleading.”
BPC is a champion of the Red Tractor assurance scheme: “It’s already recognised and by consumers. They know that it’s a mark of quality, as well as high welfare and production standards. Consumers can and do trust it. So why cloud the issue with additional labelling?”
NFU also has concerns about method-of-production labelling. NFU deputy president Guy Smith said the NFU had long called for clear unambiguous labelling to help shoppers understand where products come from and make informed decisions on the food they buy.
“The NFU believes that Lidl’s approach to its new meat labelling system over-simplifies the hard work that producers put into ensuring that high animal welfare standards are upheld, regardless of the production system.
“Existing logos where information on animal welfare and production is already provided by schemes, such as RSPCA Assured or the Red Tractor, means the food is safe, traceable and farmed with care.
“The NFU would be extremely disappointed to see method-of-production labelling implemented across other meat categories, other UK retailers, or as a mandatory approach by the Government.”
But the supermarket has been applauded by the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming for taking this industry-leading step.
“Lidl customers will now be able to make an informed choice about the chicken they buy and we hope it will lead to more people buying higher welfare options in the same way that sales of cage-free eggs increased when they were labelled in this way,” said the RSPCA’s Sophie Elwes.
“This step will establish a labelling system that benefits chickens, producers and customers. It is an encouraging move as the RSPCA has long campaigned for method-of-production labelling to be made mandatory on animal products and we hope that other retailers will follow Lidl’s lead.”
Compassion in World Farming’s Tracey Jones said: “Lidl’s voluntary labelling scheme is all about transparency – labelling standard production as well as a variety of higher-welfare options. It will undoubtedly make it easier for consumers to make higher welfare choices when they are out shopping and support those farmers that are committed to higher welfare production.”
But what about concerns that method-of-production labelling could undermine ‘standard’ chicken and also imply that Red tractor standards are not good enough?
A Lidl spokesperson told Poultry Business: “The labels have been designed to give customers clear, objective information about how the meat was produced, so that rather than replacing existing farm assurance labels, they can work well alongside them, enabling customers to make better informed decisions.
“Our new labelling depicts methods of production, rather than standards. They have been designed to complement and work alongside the likes of Red Tractor labels, rather than do the same job or undermine them.”
Interestingly, Red Tractor has, indeed, welcomed the method-of-production labelling trial. Red Tractor’s Jim Moseley said, in a press statement issued by Lidl GB: “Ensuring customers have access to British food that is produced to the highest standards of food safety, animal welfare and is fully traceable is our top priority. We welcome any initiative that helps shoppers looking for the trusted Red Tractor label to make an informed decision on the food they wish to buy.”
Red Tractor declined to make further comment when approach by Poultry Business.
Lidl labelling lowdown
The method-of-production labelling, which will feature on all fresh chicken in Lidl GB stores nationwide, will be attached directly to the front of the product packaging and will display one of the following messages:
Indoor: Birds are reared outside the UK to legal housing requirements
British Indoor: Birds live in safe, comfortable housing with natural daylight, bales, perches and pecking objects
British Indoor+: Birds live in housing with more space to exhibit natural behaviour; with natural daylight and environmental enrichment
British Free Range: Birds live in safe, comfortable housing with access to the outdoors for a minimum of eight hours a day
British Organic: Birds have access to large outdoor ranges, with smaller flock sizes and a GM free diet