Some thoughts on offal and veal

Photo by freefoto -
Photo by freefoto -
Anyone who has watched Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket will have seen Jimmy Doherty attempting to beat Tesco at their own game. He’s been trying to develop free range, high welfare versions of popular food products which can compete with Tesco’s own brand offerings on taste and, above everything else, price. The format of the program isn’t anything groundbreaking and it feels like it’s been treading a path already well worn by the celebrity chef crowd. One thing did jump out at me – the sadly low opinion Tesco has for its own customers and their intelligence.

Jimmy decided the products he was going to compete against were the Tesco’s value sausage, the chicken kiev and the general purpose Tesco meatball. He began by developing a meatball using cuts of British rose veal. Tesco seemed to like them but in the end rejected them because they didn’t think customers would buy rose veal because they’d associate veal with poor standards of animal welfare.

Next up he tried developing a sausage using cuts of pork offal – heart, tongue and cheek. He took it out to taste test with the public and Tesco customers who all unanimously said they preferred it in taste to the Tesco standard sausage. Tesco execs said it tasted of offal and customers wouldn’t buy it when they knew what was in it.

This says a lot more about Tesco’s perception of their customers than it does about the customers themselves. Jimmy took his sausages to Tesco’s customers and they all agreed they tasted better than the standard sausages Tesco sell. There’s also more than a whiff of hypocrisy and underhand behaviour here. Tesco went and told their customer panel what was in the sausages and then used the dismal result as proof people wouldn’t buy it. Yet they refused Jimmy permission to show on film how their own sausages are made and what cuts of pork are going into them. So if he’s to compete with the Tesco sausage then why tell them what’s in it at all? Why not just label it pork? After all it’s all part of the pig.

The veal is a slightly different matter. Tesco say their customers won’t buy veal because it’s had too much bad press about how it’s produced. Yet the reality is that British rose veal is very high welfare. It makes use of male dairy calves who would normally be slaughtered shortly after birth. Instead they’re raised for over a year, grazing on grass and living the bovine high life before being slaughtered to produce a product that is a superb low-fat alternative to beef (we ate loads of rose veal while my fiance had gallstones). Bad practices in veal production were mostly eradicated from UK shores in the 90s when the techniques used in white veal production were banned. Since then the reputation of veal has been rejuvenated and I’d be surprised if most people still thought veal produced in the UK was done so in the terrible conditions of pre-1990. If they do then it’s surely nothing a “free range” or similar label on the packet wouldn’t set straight.

It also strikes me as strange that a supermarket won’t sell a product here because of concerns over the customer perception of the welfare of the animal as the meat is produced; yet they continue to stock chicken produced in battery conditions, despite many high profile campaigns about the way chicken is mass-produced and it took a recent celebrity chef led campaign to make them stop stocking tins of unsustainably caught tuna.

After years of mainstream media campaigns and massive education efforts by charities and producers I think most of Tesco’s customers are smarter than they believe they are. Offal isn’t as scary as it once was. Decades of cooking programmes advocating the cheaper cuts now mean that many of them aren’t that cheap anymore! Tesco are insulting the intelligence of the millions of people who eat black pudding as part of their Saturday morning fry up by insinuating that they either don’t know they’re eating cooked blood or that they suddenly get all squeamish when faced with liver or heart. Likewise I believe that if you label rose veal correctly and emphasise that it’s a high-welfare, low-fat product then the average customer will give it a chance. Wake up Tesco, your customers are smarter than you give them credit for.

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