Sainsbury's seeks price row review
Supermarket Sainsbury's is stepping up its fight against rival Tesco's Price Promise campaign in a long-running row over comparisons between the two firm's products.
Britain's third biggest grocery chain is to take its battle into the courtroom, by requesting a judicial review against a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that rejected its complaint over the Tesco pledge.
The move comes after Sainsbury's lost an appeal against the ASA decision earlier this month, when a report by the watchdog's independent reviewer Sir Hayden Philips backed the ASA findings.
Mike Coupe, Sainsbury's commercial director, said it was "time to take a stand" on behalf of customers to ensure shopping decisions are not just based on price, but also factors such as ethics and provenance.
The Tesco money-back pledge compares the price of goods in a shopper's trolley at the checkout with prices at Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons, with any difference on comparable products refunded in the form of a voucher worth up to £10.
Sainsbury's believes it misleads consumers because it does not make fair comparisons, by for example, matching products such as its Everyday Value Tea, which is not Fairtrade, with Sainsbury's basics tea, which is.
It added the pledge is also misleading on its basics water, which comes from a spring in Yorkshire, and is compared with Tesco's Everyday Value water, which Sainsbury's claims starts at the mains supply.
But the ASA said in July that Tesco's campaign adhered to its rules requiring advertisers to compare goods which met the same need or intended purposes.
Sir Hayden agreed with the ASA, although he said Sainsbury's had made a "persuasive case" that customers increasingly place value on provenance and other ethical issues.
Mr Coupe said: "Tesco says that whether, for example, a product is Fairtrade or MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified is just a 'minor part' of a customer's considerations - especially for value products. We disagree.
"More than ever, customers want to let their values guide them and in price-matching its products with ours, Tesco is - when it sees fit - choosing to ignore factors such as ethical or provenance certification or even country of origin."
A Sainsbury's-commissioned survey of customers across all major supermarkets found 86% of those giving an opinion agree that supermarket price comparisons should clearly state whether they take ethical production standards into consideration when matching cost.
The poll also showed that 84% of customers believe that how and where food is produced are important factors in their buying decisions.
Sainsbury's will apply for an admission hearing that will rule if its judicial review will go ahead, with hopes for a court hearing next summer.
The group's own Brand Match campaign recently fell foul of ASA rules, which saw the regulator ban an advert for suggesting consumers do not need to shop around to benefit fully from deals at rivals Tesco and Asda.
Consumer group Which? also recently warned shoppers to take supermarket price match schemes with "a pinch of salt" after an investigation by the watchdog claimed each retailer calculates the cost of a basket differently, making them of little real worth to shoppers.
Tesco's UK marketing director David Wood said: "Sainsbury's argument against Price Promise has been heard and rejected twice already.
He added: "Tesco Price Promise offers customers reassurance on the price of their whole shop, in store and online, not just the big brand products.
"When family budgets are under pressure, that is the kind of help customers want and the real question for Sainsbury's is why they aren't trying to do the same for their customers."