In 2021 Tesco released a series of ads to promote its plant-based burger with the following statements:
- “a little swap can make a difference to the planet”
- “even better for the planet”
- “a little swap is […] even better for the planet”
A complaint was made to the Advertising Standards Authority (‘ASA’), the UK’s advertising regulator who ensures that all advertisements comply with a set of Advertising Codes. The ASA’s remit includes conventional advertising on radio, TV, cinema, posters and billboards but also any advertisements on the internet, i.e. on companies own websites as well as commercial emails and text messages.
The meat of the matter was that some of Tesco’s plant-based products, particularly processed ones, may contain ingredients sourced globally, or produced and transported in ways that had a negative environmental impact. This impact could be the same as or worse than meat products. It was alleged that Tesco’s statements could be misleading without evidence that shows that their plant-based burger is more sustainable than a meat burger.
In response, Tesco alleged that they were making general statements in their ads that plant-based diets could have environmental benefits for the planet, not that their plant-based burger is more sustainable than a meat burger.
The ASA banned Tesco’s ads. They found that consumers would understand them to mean that switching to Tesco’s plant-based burger would make a positive environmental impact compared to a meat equivalent. Tesco could not provide any evidence in relation to the full lifecycle of the product. The ads were therefore found to be misleading.
This isn’t the first time that the ASA has banned misleading plant-based burger ads. In 2020, the ASA banned three of Burger King’s advertisements promoting its “Rebel Whopper” burger.
Burger King had promoted the product on its social media platforms as “100% whopper. No beef”. The plant-based burger was supplied by ‘The Vegetarian Butcher’ and was 100% plant-based. The ads included a visual of the product with The Vegetarian Butcher’s logo or reference to The Vegetarian Butcher.
Earlier this year, Burger King’s plant-based nuggets received the stamp of approval from the Vegan Society. This follows on from the approval of, among other products, the ‘Vegan Bean Burger’ and ‘Katsu Vegan Royale Sandwich’. Burger King has permission to use the trusted “Vegan Society” certification trade mark on these products. Gaining the Vegan Society’s endorsement will help to reassure vegan and vegetarian customers that Burger King has met a stringent set of criteria to make the plant-based nuggets and burgers suitable for consumption.
For example, aside from the plant based nuggets and burgers containing no animal ingredients, Burger King would have been required, among other things, to demonstrate that it strives diligently to minimize cross-contamination from animal substances as far as reasonably practicable and possible.
Burger King has set out its aims of a 50% meat-free menu by 2030. Backing from the Vegan Society demonstrates the fast-food giant’s attempt to regain trust among vegan and vegetarian customers following the negative publicity surrounding Burger King’s plant-based ads.
All advertisements in the UK are required to comply with the Advertising Codes. The central principle is that all marketing communications should be legal, decent, honest and truthful. Marks & Clerk LLP has expertise in advising businesses on these Codes and has successfully defended and filed complaints on behalf of their clients.