The ASA accepts that, in general terms, switching to a more plant-based diet is a way in which consumers can reduce their overall environmental impact. Ads which make that point in general terms, and do not contain claims about an advertised product, are likely to be acceptable.
However, the ASA understands that some plant-based products may contain a combination of ingredients, which may have been subject to complex production processes – such products could theoretically result in their having a similar or greater negative environmental impact than basic plant ingredients, or a meat-based alternative.
The Code requires that environmental claims about an advertised product are based on its full life cycle and if they are not, such claims are likely to breach the Code unless the ad makes this clear and does not mislead consumers about the product’s total environmental impact. A product’s environmental benefit cannot be assumed, and in the absence of robust evidence to support any objective claim, ads that feature such claims are likely to be misleading.
A radio and TV ad for Sainsburys:
a. The radio ad, heard on 4 October 2021, included a voice-over which stated, “When you think of power, you don’t usually think of a chickpea but these little wonders pack a punch. Not only are they a source of protein and iron but they also make their own natural fertiliser, which all plants need to grow. So, by mixing half chickpeas with half the chicken in your curry, your dish will be better for you and better for the planet. Chickpeas. Small but powerful. Sainsbury’s, helping everyone eat better.” The voice-over then said, “To learn about how chickpeas can benefit your health and the planet visit about.sainsburys.co.uk/helping-everyone-eat-better”.
b. The TV ad, seen on 14 October 2021, opened with a voice-over which stated, “People of earth, if trying to eat better feels too hard, try your half-est.” The ad showed meals being cooked while the voice-over continued, “We’ll mix half lentils into half mince, half chickpeas will meet half chicken and half beans will meet half beef. A chop here, a change there and we’ll help our health and planet.” On-screen text which appeared halfway through the ad stated, “Research shows eating in line with UK dietary guidelines will be better for the planet than the current average UK diet. Find out more at about.sainsburys.co.uk/helping-everyone-eat-better”.
IssueThe complainants, who believed the chickpeas, lentils and beans featured in the ads were grown and imported from abroad, and so would have a greater environmental impact than domestically produced meat, challenged whether the claims that they were “better for the planet” in ad (a) and would “help the planet” in ad (b), were misleading and could be substantiated.
J Sainsbury plc t/a Sainsbury’s said the ads were part of a wider campaign which was intended to help customers to make food choices that could be both better for their health and the planet and more sustainable than the current average UK diet. Their advertising strapline ‘helping everyone eat better’ encapsulated that message.
Sainsbury’s said it was well documented that different foods had varying carbon footprints over their life cycle from production, through to waste in consumers’ homes. They realised the importance of providing a basis for their claims, to help consumers’ general understanding of both the health and environmental impacts of their dietary choices. Because it was such a complex and detailed topic, Sainsbury’s wanted to share the information with consumers in an easy to digest manner, which could not be done within the terms and conditions of the ads. A URL in the ads linked to website content which encouraged consumers to ‘find out more’.
Sainsbury’s said The Eatwell Guide was produced by Public Health England and research showed that if the UK population ate in accordance with that Guide, it would be better for the planet than the current average UK diet. The benefits of adopting those dietary recommendations included a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water use. Current data suggested that 20% of average diets were made up predominantly of red meat, processed meat and poultry and not enough fish, beans, pulses and other legumes. Sainsbury’s said making changes to the type and amount of protein containing foods eaten, was one of the ways to achieve a diet more in line with the Eatwell Guide. They said they were encouraging consumers to try reducing a small amount of their meat intake and replace it with plant-based proteins with the “try your half-est” recipe suggestions, which met the requirements of the Eatwell Guide.Sainsbury’s said beans, chickpeas and lentils were all legumes which meant they produced their own nitrogen or were nitrogen-fixing plants. That meant that the soil they were grown in did not require nitrogen fertiliser which would significantly contribute to a crop’s typical energy of production. They also said those nitrogen-fixing legumes left residual nitrogen in the soil, so when good farming practices were followed, crop rotations could help a non-nitrogen-fixing plant’s yield and reduce the need for intensive fertilisers. Further information could be found on the website.
Regarding whether legumes from abroad could be better for the environment than eating domestically produced meat, Sainsbury’s said they did not specifically address transportation on their website, but the data in the research papers linked to on the website did address the whole life cycle of different foods, which included transportation. They referred to a January 2020 paper by Our World in Data which stated that ‘eat local’ was a common recommendation to reduce the carbon footprint of a diet, but transport tended to account for a small share of greenhouse gas emissions and that for most food products, it accounted for less than 10% and was much smaller for the largest greenhouse gas emitters, for example in beef from beef herds, it was 0.5%.
Sainsbury’s said the research data showed that for plant-based foods the production, up until transportation was a lot less carbon intensive than the production up until transportation of animal-based foods. They said the evidence demonstrated it was irrelevant that beans, pulses and lentils came from abroad or that beef or chicken could be produced domestically, and that switching out half of meat for plant-based alternatives was still a beneficial swap for the planet.
Clearcast said the claim in ad (b) was qualified by the following text “‘Research shows eating in line with UK dietary guidelines will be better for the planet than the current average UK diet. Find out more at https://about.sainsburys.co.uk/helpingeveryoneeatbetter’. They said it explained that the claim was based on research into the effects of UK dietary guidelines. The stated web URL led to a landing page with additional information outlining the basis of the claims, and both the ‘Eatwell Guide’ and related ‘Carbon Trust’ study were clearly signposted for viewers to access and showed the beneficial impact on the environment.
Clearcast referred to the Our World Data paper titled “You want to reduce the carbon footprint of your food? Focus on what you eat, not whether your food is local”. They referenced a quotation which stated that producing 1 kg of beef emitted 60 kg of greenhouse gases, while peas emitted 1 kg per kg. They said the research demonstrated that transportation accounted for a very small percentage of the total carbon footprint of plant-based foods and that production of plant-based foods was significantly less carbon intensive than the production of animal-based foods.
Radiocentre said they endorsed the advertiser's response, with the substantiation provided. They also said that the radio ad made clear the basis of the claim to listeners, i.e. that chickpeas made their own "natural fertiliser" and also directed listeners to the evidence to support the claim.
Trading Standards said that they had not provided any assured advice in relation to the ads. However, in discussions regarding the “Help everyone eat better” claim, it was made clear that any claims made would not be linked to any specific Sainsbury’s ready meals but would be in relation to the promotion of the UK Government Eatwell Guidance and the health and environmental benefits of moving to that model. In addition, the ads should highlight a web page where consumers could go for more information about the claims beyond what a TV or radio ad would allow. Trading Standards said they believed the focus of the ads was on improving health and the environment by the substitution of meat with plant alternatives and illustrated examples of protein substitutes. They did not believe that consumers would interpret the ads as a comparison of imported beans, lentils or chickpeas with domestically reared meat.
The BCAP Code stated that the basis of environmental claims must be clear. It also stated that comparative claims could be justified if the advertised product provided a total environmental benefit over that of a competitor product.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand from the claim “by mixing half chickpeas with half the chicken in your curry” in ad (a) and “try your half-est”,and “We’ll mix half lentils into half mince, half chickpeas will meet half chicken and half beans will meet half beef” in ad (b), that the ads were advocating a reduction in meat portions with examples of substitutions for plant protein equivalents. We considered the claims “your dish will be better for you and better for the planet” and “we’ll help our health and planet” would be understood to mean that reducing meat consumption in our diets was better for the environment, based on the environmental impact associated with the meat industry compared with the production of plant proteins.
We acknowledged that the chickpeas, beans and lentils featured in the ad would likely have been grown abroad and imported into the UK. However, we did not consider that the ad was comparing domestically produced meat with imported legumes. Ad (b) featured the claim “Research shows eating in line with UK dietary guidelines will be better for the planet than the current average UK diet”. We considered that made clear that the ad was focusing on a change in diet, shifting from meat-based to more plants, rather than a comparison of domestic and imported produce. It was making a general claim regarding the overall accepted premise that a plant-based diet was, in general terms, better for the environment.
We noted that the ad did not feature or promote any particular product range but only showed the ingredients, which could be purchased at many retailers, being added to the meals that were being prepared. We also considered that the assumption that domestically produced foods were always better for the environment was not always the case. There were a number of factors, in addition to location, such as the methods used to grow certain foods and how they were transported which affected their environmental impact and we understood that in some scenarios foods which were grown abroad and imported had lower carbon emissions than the same foodstuff produced domestically.
Ad (a) stated regarding chickpeas, “Not only are they a source of protein and iron but they also make their own natural fertiliser, which all plants need to grow”. We considered the claim highlighted a benefit of how chickpeas grew, namely that by producing their own nitrogen they did not require additional nitrogen fertiliser which contributed to soil health and fertility, as well as helping the growth of future crops. Sainsbury’s provided a link on their website from the URL featured in both ads to a study entitled “Improving Soil Health and Human Protein Nutrition by Pulses-Based Cropping Systems”, which supported that incorporating pulses in farming and cropping systems was important to enhancing soil and human health especially in continents where chemical fertilisers were used. We considered the claim was focusing on one aspect of the chickpea’s life cycle and highlighting a specific reason why reducing the portion size of chicken in a meal and substituting that for chickpeas would be better for the environment.
Both ads featured the URL sainsburys.co.uk/helping-everyone-eat-better which took consumers to a page with further information on the “Helping everyone eat better” campaign. The page outlined the Eatwell Guide which was the UK Government’s dietary recommendations and provided further links to reports and articles regarding the environmental benefits of the growth and soil nourishment of the lentils, chickpeas and beans featured in the ads.
Because we considered both ads would be understood as promoting the general benefits to the environment of reducing meat protein in substitution for plant protein, we concluded the claims “better for the planet” in ad (a) and would “help the planet” in ad (b) were not misleading.
We investigated the ads under BCAP Code rules
Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Advertisements must not mislead consumers by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that consumers need in context to make informed decisions about whether or how to buy a product or service. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead consumers depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the advertisement is constrained by time or space, the measures that the advertiser takes to make that information available to consumers by other means. (Misleading advertising), 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation), 9.2 9.2 The basis of environmental claims must be clear. Unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information. 9.4 9.4 Absolute claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation. Comparative claims such as "greener" or "friendlier" can be justified, for example, if the advertised product or service provides a total environmental benefit over that of the advertiser's previous product or service or competitor products or services and the basis of the comparison is clear. and 9.5 9.5 Environmental claims must be based on the full life cycle of the advertised product or service, unless the advertisement states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle. If a general claim cannot be justified, a more limited claim about specific aspects of a product or service might be justifiable. Claims that are based on only part of an advertised product or service's life cycle must not mislead consumers about the product or service's total environmental impact. (Environmental claims), but did not find them in breach.
No further action necessary.