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RPC Bites #39 – Alpro in hot water over environmental claims, the ASA reports on social media alcohol ads and Tesco introduces checkout-less stores

04 November 2021. Published by Ciara Cullen, Partner and Ben Mark, Partner and Sarah Mountain, Partner and Ellie Chakarto, Associate and Harpreet Kaur, Associate

Welcome to RPC Bites. Our aim in the next 2 minutes is to provide you with a flavour of some key legal, regulatory and commercial developments in the Food & Drink sector over the last fortnight… with the occasional bit of industry gossip thrown in for good measure. Enjoy!!

Are Alpro dairy alternatives "good for the planet"?

The ASA has issued a ruling against dairy alternative giant, Alpro, in relation to claims made in an advert for 3 plant-based products. The ad, which appeared on a London bus last October, featured Alpro's almond drink, oat drink and soy yoghurt alternative. In the ad, the products were shown alongside the text "DELICIOUSLY PLANT-BASED", "HEALTHIER PLANET" and "GOOD FOR THE PLANET".

The ad was challenged by a complainant who believed that commercial almond farming was, in fact harmful to the environment and that the ad was therefore misleading.

As regular readers of RPC Bites will know, environmental claims are a particular focus for the ASA at present (as reported in previous issues, including, most recently, Issue 38). Whilst the ASA recognised that the almonds used in the production of Alpro's drink were not sourced from regions which could have a negative environmental impact, it nevertheless upheld the complaint. This was on the basis that little context was provided in the ad, meaning that it was unclear how the drink claimed to be "GOOD FOR THE PLANET" and if this claim related to, or was separate from, the "DELICIOUSLY PLANT-BASED", and "HEALTHIER PLANET" statements. Rule 11.1 of the CAP Code states that "the basis of environmental claims must be clear" and that "unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information." As Alpro's "GOOD FOR THE PLANET" claim was unqualified, it could be interpreted in a number of ways and was therefore held to be misleading.

For Alpro and other food and drink businesses the message is clear: green claims should not be made lightly and clarity is key.

The ASA reports on social media alcohol ads

Last week, the ASA published a report entitled "Alcohol Ads in Social Media", alongside a helpful infographic. The full report can be read here and the infographic here. The report forms part of the ASA's "More Impact Online" strategy, which, amongst other things, seeks to ensure that age-restricted ads are not directed at children.

Broadly, the ASA determined that alcohol brands need to do more when it comes to using targeting tools to minimise the exposure of ads to children, who may be falsely registered, or incorrectly inferred as, over the age of 18 on social media. The ASA outlined the following steps, which brands could consider taking to reduce the risk of targeting children:

  1. Use age demographic targeting alongside internet-based targeting. Examples include selecting interests or keywords associated with adults and deselecting those associated with children;
  2. When targeting ads based on interests that could be relevant to both children and adults, for example 'football', use additional interests likely to exclude children, such as 'house buying'; and
  3. If possible, look beyond internet-based targeting to exclude children, for example, by using data to support targeting decisions, such as whether an individual holds a store or credit card.

In a follow up report, the ASA plans to investigate the extent to which alcohol ads are ultimately delivered to the social media accounts of children. Whilst the ASA has yet to introduce any additional rules and/or measures around alcohol ad targeting, the reports (at the very least) indicate that this is an area of interest.

Skip the check out with Tesco and "just walk out"

In Issue 27 of RPC Bites, we reported on Amazon Fresh's checkout-less debut in the UK. Now, Tesco has entered the world of hybrid shopping, in the form of its first 'GetGo' store in Holborn, which uses AI technology to allow customers to buy groceries without visiting a till or scanning a single item.

Instead, all customers need to do is download the Tesco app, scan their unique QR code and start shopping. From that point on, weight sensors and cameras will work together to identify basket contents. Paying is just as simple, as the bill is automatically charged to the customer's Tesco account, via the app, once they exit the store.

Might we be witnessing the future of supermarkets? If Tesco can avoid technical glitches and win over enough consumers then possibly so!

A 24 carat faux pas for BrewDog

A punny promotion by BrewDog, which drew on Roald Dahl's beloved golden ticket theme, has backfired. In November 2020, the Scottish brewer ran a series of ads on its social media, offering consumers the chance to win a "solid gold, 24-carat" can of BrewDog, plus added extras. The post stated that the cans were worth "15K" each. To win, all customers needed to do was find gold cans hidden in multipacks purchasable from BrewDog's online shop.

Winners were left disappointed and complained to the ASA when they learnt that their cans were in fact gold-plated, rather than solid gold. BrewDog was quick to admit this, amended its social media posts (where possible) and promised to ensure that future ads would refer to 'gold cans' (i.e. omitting 'solid'). In any case, BrewDog submitted that no reasonable consumer would have assumed that the cans were made from solid gold, on the basis that a single 330ml can, made with the equivalent measure of pure gold, would be worth approximately $500,000 and that BrewDog's ads stated that the cans were worth only "15K".

The ASA did not accept BrewDog's reasonable consumer argument however. It considered that a general audience would not be familiar with the price of gold and concluded that the ads were therefore misleading. Responding to the ASA's decision, BrewDog's co-founder, James Wyatt said, "We hold our hands up, we got the first gold can campaign wrong."

'New Freeland' - It's an agreement in principle for the UK and NZ

Sauvignon Blanc lovers can rejoice as last week, the UK and New Zealand reached an agreement, in principle, on a free trade deal. The accord is set to lend a helping hand to British businesses and workers by removing tariffs on UK exports and reducing red tape, whilst also making it easier for UK professionals to live and work in New Zealand.

The deal could see British exporters gain a competitive advantage in the New Zealand import market, which the Government predicts will grow by a hefty 30% over the next decade. Plus, much-loved New Zealand products such as Sauvignon Blanc, Kiwifruit and Manuka Honey may become cheaper for UK shoppers as tariffs are removed on imports.

The Food and Drink Federation welcomed the news, acknowledging that New Zealand is a particularly "important partner for UK food and drink, with trade in [the] sector’s products worth more than £661M in 2020." For the Government, the hope is that the deal will open the door to the UK joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade group which includes Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Are robot kitchens the future of restaurants?

From the ice cream making BonBot in Sweden to the muesli bowl creating Karakuri in the UK, robot technology has slowly begun to inch its way into restaurant kitchens, especially since the global pandemic has increased the focus on hygiene.

Innovative restaurant owners have realised the value in using robot technology to more efficiently provide affordable food to patrons, without compromising on quality. Instead of industrial kitchens with teams of chefs, imagine a small kitchen of 3 x 2 metres with one food robot cooking and assembling a staggering 1,200 meals an hour. This is what the top-scoring Parisian pasta take-away, Cala offers. According to its founder, Ylan Richard, using a food robot saves Cala 60 percent in rent. By putting this saving towards investing in higher quality ingredients, the benefit is passed directly onto Cala's customers, who receive tasty meals at more affordable prices.

Although the wholesale replacement of chefs with robots seems extremely unlikely, the technology could prove helpful to certain businesses within the sector, including delivery outlets operating from so-called 'dark kitchens'. Whilst there is naturally an initial investment cost, over time, businesses could save on typical restaurant overheads by renting smaller premises in densely populated city areas, allowing for quicker and cheaper deliveries to a larger customer base.

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