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 TV, video on demand (VOD), radio, press ad, tweet and website for Tesco, seen or heard during October and November 2021:
a. The TV ad featured a woman about to eat a burger while watching television. The programme she was watching said, “The planet is continuing to warm” after which the voice-over said, “Now that’s not what Zoe likes to hear, but she’s gonna roll up her sleeves and do her bit […] and there it is, a delicious Tesco plant chef burger. We’ve lowered the price of dozens of our Plant Chef products because a little swap can make a difference to the planet.”
b. The VOD ad seen on the ITV Hub was the same as ad (a).
c. The radio ad stated, “It may not sound like it, but Zoe here is doing her bit for the planet. By swapping to Tesco Plant Chef burgers every now and then, she’s making a difference, not by much, but every little, well you know, and we’re all for it. So we’ve lowered the price of dozens of our Plant Chef products. Good for your pocket, even better for the planet.”
d. The press ad featured a woman biting into a burger with text which stated “We’ve lowered the price of dozens of Plant Chef products because a little swap is good for your pocket and even better for the planet”. Either side of the burger was text which stated “Every” and “helps”.
e. The tweet, posted on 25 October 2021, featured text which stated “We’ve lowered the price of dozens of Plant Chef products, making it easier for you to swap every now and then. Good for your pocket, even better for the planet. Make the swap at tes.co/plantchef”. It included a video of a woman eating a burger accompanied by text which stated “We’ve lowered the price of dozens of Plant Chef products, like this burger”.
f. The website www.tesco.com, on the groceries page stated, “We’ve lowered the price of dozens of Plant Chef products Because a little swap is good for your pocket and even better for the planet”. Underneath an image of a woman eating a burger, text stated “As a nation, if we swapped beef for a plant-based alternative just 1 out of 5 times, the amount of CO2 emissions we could save would be the equivalent to driving 27 billion fewer miles in a car!”
The complainants challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated:
1. “a little swap can make a difference to the planet” in ads (a) and (b);
2.“even better for the planet” in ads (c) and (e); and
3. “a little swap is […] even better for the planet” in ads (d) and (f).
1., 2. & 3. Tesco Stores Ltd t/a Tesco said all the ads featured a plant-burger and made reference to the “Plant Chef products”, a range of 100% plant-based products. Tesco said their internal customer insight showed price was one of customers biggest barriers to purchasing and consuming more plant-based foods. So to make plant-based eating more accessible they reduced the prices of products in the range, which was the key focus of the ads, although they all featured claims which considered the environmental impacts of plant-based products.
Tesco said the claims were not, nor were they meant to be, absolute environmental claims, as they did not claim that the products were wholly sustainable or good for the planet. Rather, the claims were all explicitly comparative in nature because they highlighted that by “swapping” to products such as Plant Chef products, it “can make a difference to the planet”, or that such a swap would be better for the planet. They said the obvious alternative to the plant-based products were burgers containing meat and therefore they formed the basis of the comparison. Tesco said the most important element of the claims was the emphasis on the “swap” or “swapping”, which meant that an equivalent meat-based product was being taken from the shopping basket and replaced by a Plant Chef product. They said the average consumer was being asked to make a change by way of a substitution.Tesco said the ads made a limited claim as to the marginal gain, when all other things were equal, that switching to a plant-based product could make. For example, ads (a) and (b) said “a little swap can make a difference”. Ad (c) said “she’s making a difference, not by much, but every little …”. Tesco said the wording “little” played an important part in determining the breadth of the claims. They said they were not claiming that the products were sustainable or good in and of themselves, but that by eating plant-based products, as opposed to meat-based, consumers could make a small or “little” difference. In addition, by using the word “better” it showed that the benefit could be achieved over the compared product, namely the meat equivalent. Tesco said they believed the average consumer, being aware of both meat and plant-based products, would understand that by making a swap to such plant-based products, it could make a difference to the planet and in that specific way the Plant Chef product was “better” for the planet, or less detrimental to the environment then their meat equivalents. They said the basis of the claims was clear.
Tesco said to support the claims they had worked with a UK University and a charity to advise them in relation to the environmental impacts of plant-based versus comparable meat-based products. They relied on third party and scientifically led publications which all contained similar conclusions, that plant-based diets could have environmental benefits for the planet; they provided copies of that supporting documentation. Tesco said they considered that there was widespread scientific evidence to support the claims that a “swap” to plant-based products could make a difference to, or be better for the planet, when compared to the production and consumption of equivalent meat-based products. Tesco said those views were widely shared, understood or capable of being understood by the average consumer, in the context of the grocery market.
Regarding the ingredients in the Plant Chef range, Tesco said they were committed to zero-net deforestation in their sourcing of palm oil and as members of the Consumer Good Forum had achieved that by 2020. They said they were also a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) which supported sustainable palm oil production, which ensured that 100% of the palm oil in their own brand products, including Plant Chef was RSPO certified. Tesco said that although some of the Plant Chef products contained ingredients that would have been imported from other countries, according to the scientific studies they had considered, the presence of imported ingredients did not negate the environmental benefits created by those products. Even with such factors considered, the benefits of swapping to plant-based products was still apparent. Tesco said their ads did not make any comparisons with any particular country or farming method. They said consumers would understand that the comparison being made was to typical comparable products such as Tesco beef burgers, in comparable packaging and not a comparison to products such as those which might be delivered directly and locally from ‘farm to butcher’ as those products were not commonly available in Tesco.
Clearcast said they fully endorsed Tesco’s response in relation to ad (a). They said they did not invite Tesco to substantiate their qualified and comparative environmental claim because they considered that there was already adequate published science-based research as well as ASA guidance which made the claim a generally accepted one.
Radiocentre also said they fully endorsed Tesco’s response in relation to ad (c). They said they cleared "good for your pocket" because Tesco had reduced their prices. They said the phrase "even better for the planet" was cleared because, as Tesco said, reducing meat consumption was one small step, amongst many others, that listeners could take to reduce their carbon footprint.
1., 2. & 3. Upheld
The CAP and BCAP Codes stated that environmental claims must be based on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the ad stated otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle. They also stated that comparative claims could be justified if the advertised product provided a total environmental benefit over that of the advertiser’s previous product or competitor product and the basis of the comparison was clear.
The ASA acknowledged that it was generally accepted amongst the scientific community that diets which included meat, and particularly red meat, had a greater environmental impact than plant-based diets, and that switching to a more plant-based diet was a way in which individuals could reduce their overall environmental impact. However, we also recognised that specific plant-based products, particularly processed products which could contain a number of different ingredients sourced from around the world, could nevertheless contain ingredients or be produced and transported by methods that had a high carbon or negative environmental impact. Notwithstanding the general benefits of plant-based diets in broad environmental terms, it would not necessarily always be the case that specific plant-based products would always be guaranteed to have a lower carbon or environmental impact than specific meat-based products.
All of the ads referred to Tesco’s Plant Chef product range, and the Plant Chef plant-based burger in particular and mentioned swapping to those products. We considered that consumers would understand that ads (a) to (f) were promoting a swap from a meat burger, such as beef, to Tesco’s Plant Chef plant-based burger, rather than understanding the claim to be a general claim about swapping from meat to plant-based food in general. We considered the claims “a little swap can make a difference to the planet”, “even better for the planet” and, “a little swap is […] even better for the planet” would be understood to mean that such a swap would make a positive environmental impact on the planet.
We noted that ad (e) featured the URL tes.co/plantchef, which was a link to other products in the Plant Chef range and did not provide any additional information to substantiate the claims regarding the environmental benefit of the Plant Chef burger over a meat burger.
Beneath the image of the woman eating a Plant Chef burger, ad (f) stated “As a nation, if we swapped beef for a plant-based alternative just 1 out of 5 times, the amount of CO2 emissions we could save would be the equivalent to driving 27 billion fewer miles in a car!” We recognised that information suggested a more general premise that swapping meat for a plant-based diet generally was better for the environment. However, we considered the focus of all the ads was to promote the Tesco Plant Chef range, as highlighted by the claim that “We’ve lowered the price of dozens of Plant Chef products”, rather than to promote a move to eating a more plant-based diet generally.
Because we considered the ads implied that switching to products in the Plant Chef range would positively affect the environment, we expected to see evidence that that was the case based on the full life cycle of the Plant Chef burger in comparison with a meat burger. However, we understood that Tesco did not hold any evidence in relation to the full lifecycle of any of the products in the Plant Chef range, or of the burger featured in the ads. We were therefore unable to assess the product’s total environment impact over its life cycle compared with that of a meat burger.
Because we had not seen evidence in relation to ads (a) to (f) that demonstrated that Plant Chef products could make a positive environmental difference to the planet compared to their meat equivalents, nor had we seen evidence for the full life cycle of the Plant Chef burger, we concluded the claims regarding their positive benefits to the planet had not been substantiated and were likely to mislead.
Ads (a) and (c) breached 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. 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. (Misleading advertising) and 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).
Ads (b), (d), (e) and (f) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
For advertisements that quote prices for an advertised product or service, material information [for the purposes of rule
In setting or revising any such standards, Ofcom must have regard, in particular and to such extent as appears to them to be relevant to the securing of the standards objectives, to each of these matters:
a) the degree of harm or offence likely to be caused by the inclusion of any particular sort of material in programmes generally, or in programmes of a particular description;
b) the likely size and composition of a potential audience for programmes included in television and radio services generally, or in television and radio services of a particular description;
c) the likely expectation of the audience as to the nature of a programme's content and the extent to which the nature of the programme's content can be brought to the attention of potential members of the audience;
d) the likelihood of persons who are unaware of the nature of the programme's content being unintentionally exposed, by their own actions, to that content;
e) the desirability of securing that the content of services identifies when there is a change affecting the nature of a service that is being watched or listened to and, in particular, a change that is relevant to the application of the standards set under this section...".
includes: 3.7 3.7 Advertisements must not falsely imply that the advertiser is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession. Advertisements must make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context. (Misleading advertising) and rules 11.1 11.1 Radio Central Copy Clearance – Radio broadcasters must ensure advertisements subject to this section are centrally cleared. 11.3 11.3 Advertisements must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. For example, they must not offer specific advice on, diagnosis of or treatment for such conditions unless that advice, diagnosis or treatment is conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional (see rule 11.9). That does not prevent advertising for spectacles, contact lenses or hearing aids. 11.4 11.4 Medicinal or medical claims and indications may be made for a medicinal product that is licensed by the MHRA, the VMD or under the auspices of the EMA, or for a CE-marked medical device. A medicinal claim is a claim that a product or its constituent(s) can be used with a view to making a medical diagnosis or can treat or prevent disease, including an injury, ailment or adverse condition, whether of body or mind, in human beings.
Secondary medicinal claims made for cosmetic products as defined in the appropriate European legislation must be backed by evidence. These are limited to any preventative action of the product and may not include claims to treat disease. (Environmental claims).
Ads (a) to (f) must not appear again in their current form. We told Tesco to ensure that in future they did not make environmental claims about their products unless they held sufficient evidence to substantiate the claims. We also told them to ensure that the basis of any environmental claims was made clear.