Two years on from Tesco promising to source all of its poultry from the British Isles, little progress seems to have been made, a Poultry World analysis can reveal.
While the supermarket quickly and successfully delivered on its promise with regard to fresh poultrymeat, large amounts of its value-added products are still made using foreign chicken.
Tesco made its initial announcement to the NFU conference in 2013 in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, in which horsemeat was found in readymeals instead of beef. It said it would source all fresh chicken – understood at the time to be around 80% – from the UK.
Former chief executive Philip Clarke then said: “We will also move over time to ensure that all the chicken in all of our products – fresh or frozen – is from the British Isles.”
Poultry World has surveyed some 260 products for sale on Tesco’s website, including readymeals, pizzas and other products containing chicken. We found 172 (66%) to contain chicken not from the UK.
The 88 products containing British chicken were largely from the supermarket’s “Finest” range, which has moved to 100% British in the past two years. While it accounts for many lines, it typically carries a significant price premium.
Few products in standard ranges contained poultry from the UK, even those that were made in Britain.
None of the supermarket’s standard range curries, flavoured chicken portions or pizzas we surveyed used UK chicken. Fresh poultry that was flavoured or had added products – such as Hunter’s Chicken or “mini roasts” – were almost exclusively made from EU poultry.
Price is clearly a factor. An “Everday Value” pack of fresh British chicken breast, weighing 450-650g, was priced at £6.90/kg. But a 1kg pack from the same range contained frozen EU breast portions at just £3.85/kg.
The supermarket is understood to have taken on longer-term agreements in its poultry supply chain with integrators Moy Park and Cargill. It says it now makes “joint decisions on price and volume commitments” with the two, and this had driven confidence to invest in production.
Supply limitations explained
Both the carcass balance and processing capacity are understood to be major problems in increasing the proportion of home-produced chicken.
British consumers prefer breast meat while other countries opt for the darker parts of a bird. That makes breast meat cheaper in some parts of the world, and so a prime choice for importing to the UK.
The UK’s capacity to produce poultrymeat is another limitation – something which could be further strained if thinning poultry flocks is restricted in moves to cut campylobacter (see p12).
Tom Lander, who works on food chain issues at the NFU, acknowledged there was a supply gap in Britain. He said the move to 100% fresh British poultry was welcome, but “consumer and producer expectations would have liked to have seen Tesco, and indeed other retailers, go above and beyond just their fresh sourcing commitments”.
This would require confidence, and “the right market signals” from retailers, he added.
A Tesco spokeswoman said capacity remained the biggest barrier to sourcing more UK chicken, but the supermarket had strengthened its traceability of poultry products in the last two years. She added that the poultry it buys from abroad is reared above Red Tractor standards.
The supermarket would always look to source as much as possible from the UK, she said.