Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.
A regional press ad for Iceland, published daily between 21 and 25 March 2019, featured the claim “7 DAY DEALS WHEN IT’S GONE IT’S GONE” on the left-hand side of the ad in a red box. On the right-hand side, text stated, “UK’S CHEAPEST CUPPA – SAVE £4.08 VS TESCO”.
The first part of the text was encased in a red box, and the text “VS TESCO” was encased in a blue box. Underneath were images of three products accompanied by price claims in red boxes relating to Iceland’s prices, and prices attributed to Tesco in blue boxes. For PG Tips the Iceland red box price was stated as “Now £3.29 was £4.50” and the Tesco price was “£5.99”.
For milk, the Iceland red box price was stated as “only £1 each” and the Tesco price was “£1.09”. For McVitie’s chocolate digestives the Iceland red box price was stated as “Now £1 each was £1.50” and the Tesco price was “£2.99”. Small text at the bottom of the ad stated, “Comparisons made and prices checked on 12.02.19. Offer available in-store until 26.03.19, online until 25.03.19, for online delivery until 26.03.19. £4.08 saving vs Tesco based on Tesco standard prices of products pictured. For full details visit www.iceland.co.uk/offers-terms. Subject to availability. UK only, excl the Hebrides”.
The ASA received two complaints about three issues:
1. Tesco Stores Ltd challenged whether the price comparisons between Iceland’s and Tesco’s prices were misleading, because they compared Iceland’s promotional prices with Tesco’s non-promotional prices and the Tesco prices dated from five weeks before the ad was published.
2. Tesco Stores Ltd and a member of the public challenged whether the claim “UK’S CHEAPEST CUPPA” was misleading and could substantiated.
3. Tesco Stores Ltd challenged whether the claim “UK’s CHEAPEST CUPPA” was verifiable.
1. Iceland Foods Ltd said the purpose of the ad was to objectively compare their promotional prices for the three listed products (PG Tips, milk, and digestive biscuits) specifically with Tesco’s prices, as well as more generally – through the “UK’S CHEAPEST CUPPA” claim – with those at Tesco and their other identifiable competitors: Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Ocado and Waitrose.
Iceland said that their regular ‘7 day deals’ promotions were advertised across a range of media, including in-store. Due to the print deadline for producing in-store materials, they had to plan the promotional messaging five weeks in advance and as a result the substantiation relating to their competitors’ pricing was gathered five weeks in advance, in that instance on 12 February 2019. They believed that their competitor’s prices for the compared products did not tend to fluctuate frequently and therefore the basis of the comparison would be likely to remain accurate. They therefore did not re-check their competitors’ prices before the ad was published.
They believed the ad made clear the basis of the price comparison with Tesco. The small print stated that the comparison used Iceland’s promotional prices against Tesco’s standard prices, and the date on which the prices were compared. It also included a URL to signpost consumers to where they could view the evidence for the claim. That web page set out the prices of the products at Iceland and Tesco, as well as the other five retailers. They provided a document with that pricing information. Tesco had highlighted that by the time the ad was published, they had reduced the price of PG Tips from £5.99 to £3.50. Iceland said there did not appear to have been any other prices changes after they collected the price information. In any case they did not believe that the price change made the claim in the ad misleading because the basis of the saving was clearly calculated using the £5.99 price and the small print made clear that the comparison used Tesco’s standard rather than promotional prices.
2. Iceland said the comparison “UK’S CHEAPEST CUPPA” related to the price of the products shown in the ad at Iceland compared to the six competitors referenced above. The pricing information document listed the price on 12 February 2019, at each of the retailers, for: a 240 bag pack of PG Tips tea bags; a 240 bag pack of Scottish Blend Original tea bags; 433 g packs of McVitie’s Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate Digestives; and four-pint bottles of fresh Whole, Semi-skimmed and Skimmed milk. Iceland also provided a calculation of the full price of a ‘cuppa’ from each retailer, based on those prices.
3. Iceland believed the ad clearly showed the exact products which were used to make the headline “UK’S CHEAPEST CUPPA” claim and that consumers would therefore understand the basis on which that comparison was made. The small print stated “For full details visit www.iceland.co.uk/offers-terms”, where the comparison information could be found. They considered the ad therefore signposted consumers to where they could find the relevant evidence to support the claim. Iceland said the information on the website clearly set out the individual prices of each product at each retailer, but acknowledged it did not include a calculation of the total purchase price of the ‘cuppa’ at each of the retailers, for which they apologised. They explained that the reason there was an additional brand of tea mentioned in the verification document was because the ad was also run in Scottish newspapers, and ‘Scottish Blend’ was the teabag sold in the Scottish stores. They said they would be mindful in future to ensure the verification information was clear when presenting regional variations of the price comparative claims.
The ad featured price claims in red and blue boxes next to an image of a box of PG Tips, an image of three bottles of milk (whole, semi-skimmed and skimmed milk) and an image of two packs of McVitie’s chocolate digestives (one milk chocolate, the other dark chocolate). Text underneath each image stated the size of the featured products. Each of the price statements in the blue boxes were headed “TESCO” and the ASA considered it was therefore clear to consumers that those prices were prices charged by Tesco for the featured products. The red boxes featured “Now” or “only” headings and we considered that from the context of the ad consumers would understand those prices were Iceland’s “7 DAY DEALS” promotional prices for those products.
The ad also included the heading “UK’s CHEAPEST CUPPA – SAVE £4.08 VS TESCO”. Because the ad related to a current short-term offer at Iceland, we considered consumers would therefore expect to make a saving of £4.08 by purchasing the products from Iceland rather than Tesco at the time the ad appeared. We acknowledged that the ad made clear that the Iceland prices were part of a promotion, and that it stated in the small print that the prices were checked on 12 February and that the saving was based on “Tesco standard prices”. However, we considered that in the absence of further, more prominent, clarifying information, consumers would be likely to understand that none of the featured items were currently subject to a promotional price at Tesco. The prices Iceland had used for their own products were not the prices charged on 12 February but their own promotional prices that they would be charging when the ad was published five weeks later. Additionally, at the time the prices were checked, PG Tips was available in Tesco at the promotional price of £4 rather than the £5.99 stated in the ad. The prices therefore did not reflect the prices that consumers paid at either Iceland or Tesco on 12 February. Furthermore, by the time the ad was published the price at Tesco had further reduced, meaning that the overall saving a consumer could achieve by purchasing the ‘cuppa’ at Iceland rather than Tesco on the day the ad was published was only £1.59 compared to the £4.08 saving stated in the ad.
We were also concerned that there was a time difference of over a month between when the prices were checked and when the ad first appeared on 21 March, and that Iceland had not made any attempt to re-validate the prices in the intervening period to ensure that the ad reflected current prices as far as was possible. Because we considered that consumers would understand from the ad that they would make a saving of £4.08 by purchasing the products from Iceland rather than Tesco at the time the ad appeared when that was not the case, we concluded the ad was likely to mislead.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Qualifications), 3.17 (Prices), 3.33 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors) and 3.39 (Price comparisons).
We considered consumers would interpret the claim “UK’S CHEAPEST CUPPA” to mean that it was not possible to purchase the three featured products together at any other retailer in the UK at a cheaper total price than at Iceland on 12 February or when the ad appeared in late March.
We considered that the three products featured were likely to be available for purchase together at most online, national and regional supermarkets as well as many other food and grocery retailers across the UK including small chains and individual shops. However, Iceland had clarified that they only checked prices at the supermarket chains Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Waitrose, and the online retailer Ocado. Because Iceland did not have evidence which confirmed that Iceland’s total price for the featured products was cheaper than all other UK retailers, we concluded the claim was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.33 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors) and 3.39 (Price comparisons).
The CAP Code required that comparisons with identifiable competitors must be verifiable. That meant that an ad which featured a comparison with an identifiable competitor or competitors needed to include, or direct consumers to, sufficient information to allow them to understand the comparison, and be able to check the claims were accurate, or ask someone suitably qualified to do so.
We considered the text “For full details visit www.iceland.co.uk/offers-terms” in the small print clearly signposted to consumers where they could find more detailed information about the basis of the comparison. We reviewed the verification information to determine whether it was presented in such a way that it was sufficiently clear for consumers to understand the basis of the claim and check it was accurate.
The pricing information was presented in a series of tables, each relating to a product variant and the prices of that product at Iceland and the six comparator retailers. If a retailer was offering a promotion, both the non-promotional price and the promotional price were included, with a summary of the type of promotion (e.g. “£1.50 (Promo)” and “2 for £2 Promo”). Prices were stated in both a per item and a per 100 g format, and text underneath each table clarified whether the comparison was made on a per pack or per 100 g basis. That text also included information that the prices were checked against standard prices, and, where the tables included promotional prices, against promotional prices, although no clarification was provided as to whether the claim in the ad was based on a comparison of the non-promotional or promotional prices. The information also included a table relating to a brand of tea which was not featured in the ad due to regional variation, although this was not explained in the document. Given that the information included prices, at seven retailers, for four different products, two of which had two or more variants and one of which was not featured in the ad, included both non-promotional and promotional prices including some for multi-buy offers, and that in some instances the comparison was based on a price per pack size and in others on a price per 100 g, we considered that without a calculation of the total price of the ‘cuppa’ at each retailer and a clear explanation of the basis of those calculations, the basis of the comparison was not made sufficiently clear to consumers. We concluded the ad therefore breached the Code.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.35 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Iceland Foods Ltd to ensure the basis of their price comparisons were clear and their ads reflected the prices available to consumers. We also told them to ensure that they provided sufficient information for consumers to be able to verify the comparison for themselves.