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Planet Jonny - From Heroes To Zeros - For Me At Least
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From Heroes To Zeros - For Me At Least
For the past three or four years, Sainsburys have labelled their own brand products as "Suitable for Vegetarian/Vegan" (or sometimes just "Vegetarian/Vegan") where they are suitable for vegans.

As a result, Sainsburys has been like Disneyland for vegans. We've been like kids let loose in a sweet shop. Gravy (which we put in soups, stews and everything!), ice lollies, chocolate sauces, apple strudels, biscuits - all the things that we can't usually eat because they contain unspecified "flavourings" just waiting for us to grab them, take them home, and eat them.

It didn't matter to me that Sainsburys costs more than Tescos. It didn't matter that my nearest store was much further away than my *three* local Tescos superstores. It didn't matter that it had limited opening hours (compared to their 24 hour opening).

Sainsburys like vegans, and I liked them. For three, maybe four years, I've spent about £50 a week on food from Sainsburys. I've told everyone about them. I've recommended them. I've wielded my Nectar card with pride. I was a Sainsburys man. They'd totally transformed my shopping experience; it's difficult to describe how grateful I was.

So how to Sainsburys react to being the number one choice of the supermarket (with the possible exception of those lucky enough to live near a Coop, who also label vegan stuff) for the UK's 250,000 vegans?

By shafting us, of course!

Just read a thread which started with the following post:
I'm getting so confused.
After enjoying shopping 100 times more in Sainsburys thanks to their vegan labelling, I am getting really worried that they're changing to just vegetarian labelling??

They have changed their design, but the things that are vegan seem to be mostly the old design, saying its vegan. But now and again I find things that I am certain are vegan but which are only labelled vegetarian i.e. crispy seaweed an popcorn...

I'm going to be so angry if they stop labelling things vegan, the nearest co op is over an hour drive away, or it will take me about a thousand years to shop!
A long way further into a rather "animated" thread, I then found a post containing the following gem, quoting from an email sent to the posted by the Sainsburys customer care people.
We have also decided to stop printing the vegan sign on our products, as we do not feel it is vital information. We believe this, as it is a personal choice to follow a vegan diet and is not as important as allergy advice.

If you would like to know if any of our products are suitable for vegans, please feel free to contact us. Alternatively, you could call our freephone customer Careline with your request on 0800 636 262. Our Careline is open Monday to Saturday, 8am until 7pm.

Thank you once again for taking the time to contact us and for giving us the chance to explain our position on this matter. I do hope that you will continue to enjoy our products in the future and will find everything to your satisfaction.
As an aside, I love the "we've decided to stop telling you whether or not you can eat our food but nonetheless hope that you'll continue purchasing food from us" bit!

Not surprisingly, people - including me - are a bit upset by this. I contacted Sainsburys and found, after some delay for consultation, that it was all true.

The girl explained to me that they decided to take the " and Vegans" off in order so that they can display information on allergies.

I'm tempted to point out that taking "Vegetarians and " off would actually save more space (or better still, just say "Vegan") but it's clearly a bullshit argument by them anyway. (And isn't Vegetarianism a lifestyle choice?)

Anyhow, I did then make four basic points:

1) Marking a product as suitable for vegans and giving allergy information aren't mutally exclusive (i.e. you don't have to drop one to show the other).

2) My veganism being a "lifestyle choice" doesn't make my money any less valid. If their products aren't marked as suitable for vegans, then I may as well go to Tescos which is: a) cheaper; b) nearer; and c) open better hours. And the other 249,999 vegans will no doubt do the same.

3) If a follower of Judaism asked if a product contained pork fat, would they refuse to answer on the grounds that Judaism is a "lifestyle choice"?

4) This is a stunningly stupid PR move, in that it not only negates the goodwill they've generated over the last three or four years, it actually converts it into negative feelings as we're now going to dislike Sainsburys a hell of a lot more than if they'd never done it in the first place. (i.e. If you befriend someone and then dump them, they're going to dislike you a lot more than if you'd just never befriended them in the first place).

Personally, I think there's a much more logical information than "saving space on the packaging". It's that if you put "suitable for [vegetarians and] vegans" on a packet of bourbon biscuits (as Sainsburys currently do) many non-vegans will not buy it because they think it's some kind of special version without the "creamy/milky stuff" they expect chocolate biscuits to have.

By leaving the recipe for the bourbons the same, but remarketing them as being for vegetarians only, Sainsburys may well increase their sales.

Of course, I won't be one of them. And I won't be buying their potatoes, carrots, onions, toasters, etc. etc. etc. Because I'll be at Tescos.

Or maybe I'm overthinking this. Perhaps it's just a new marketting person stripping away what they feel is extranious information.

Either way, it's one hell of a pisser. All I can do is urge any vegans reading this to call the number and complain. (Hell, if any non-vegans want to call up, please feel free). Perhaps if they realise how many of us there are, they might decide that they're going to lose more custom (and certainly goodwill) than they're going to gain.

Current Mood: pissed off pissed off

Comments
raygungothic From: raygungothic Date: January 9th, 2007 01:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think you're overanalysing when you think removing "and vegans" might improve sales. Most non-vegans simply don't read packaging closely enough for that to matter.

I think it's more likely that their marketing dept. have declared that they want technical information to have minimum prominence on packaging (it tends to intimidate thick people, ie the majority of the population) - and at the same time their legal people probably demand maximum coverage of allergies to reduce the risk of lawsuits. If no-one there has realised the importance of the vegan market, which is quite likely if none of them are vegans (I didn't know there were that many until you said!), declarations of vegan suitability then just fall out of the middle.

Enough complaints might convince them to work their graphic designers harder and sort it out - it's not as though "suitable for vegetarians and vegans" has to be in particularly large or prominent type, since anyone who cares will be reading the packaging in detail anyway.
mr_wombat From: mr_wombat Date: January 9th, 2007 02:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I thought everywhere used that little green V symbol to indicate vegan appropriate food (insofar as it contains vegan food before being dunked in baby fat and sprinkled in dried puppy tears)? Least I assume thats the vegan symbol, I remember being impressed that the local chipper did it anyway.
jonhodgson From: jonhodgson Date: January 9th, 2007 03:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Seems like a backward step. How odd. And what a pain in the ass for you! I guess the best thing to do is keep making noise about it, so they look bad?
jdigital From: jdigital Date: January 9th, 2007 05:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
When they say "lifestyle choice", I think they mean it in the same way as being a transvestite or adult nappy wearer: "We know your sort exist, but you're all bonkers and we don't really want to support that."

The allergy thing sounds like a bullshit reason, the kind where they take something away and spin it like it's a good thing. They already give allergy information - I would imagine it's required by law. It's ridiculous to give up a significant number of faithful customers just for the sake of one word on a packet.

Presumably they figured that vegans are only 0.4% of the market, and that even if as many as half of vegan customers refuse to shop there after this, it's worth losing 0.2% of their profit if it means they don't have to pore over everything they make to ensure that it doesn't contain milk or egg.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 9th, 2007 07:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I noticed that last time i went to Sainsbury's and I thought: "i must be overreacting, Sainsbury's wouldnt do that!"...

I am really angry too, I am writing a complain letter today and going to my local sainsburys to hand it in (in about 10 minutes!!!)... and ringing the bloody number too!!!!

Thanks for letting me know!!!

Paty (P.S. by the way, it is the first time i read ur blog and it was really funny, might come back!)
lovingboth From: lovingboth Date: January 9th, 2007 08:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not a vegan, and I think this is a stupid move.
ianslife From: ianslife Date: January 10th, 2007 08:45 am (UTC) (Link)

The Sainsbury's Incident File

I just called the careline. The woman I spoke to told me that I was the first person who had called on this issue (!) on the basis that if anyone else had called it would have gone into something called the "incident file", partially so that other customer support people know the party line, and also so that Sainsbury's know how many customers they are losing.

(She also claimed all the information was in the ingredients list.)

She also said I was the first call she'd had on the subject. I asked how many people were answering the phones, and she said 150. So we need to get a few hundred people calling so that there's a sense in the call centre that it's a real issue. That should be feasible.

Jonny, would you like to call the careline again (0800 636 262, folks) and verify that your complaint is in the "incident file"?

Thanks,

Ian
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 10th, 2007 09:06 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: The Sainsbury's Incident File

Rediculously stupid move by sainsbury's - not that I'm cynical, but I wonder if it has anything do to with pleasing certain people who are rabidly anti-veggie/pro-hunt/pro-testing etc etc. Nah, the PR people would have overruled surely!
jonnynexus From: jonnynexus Date: January 10th, 2007 10:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: The Sainsbury's Incident File

Well I phoned them up and they now say that they at customer services have no knowledge of any such plan and if anyone (twice) told me yesterday that they did then that person was wrong.

I'm now waiting for a call from a superviser to explain why I was apparently given information that was not only 100% wrong but was actually "made up" by the superviser then on duty.

So it looks like they're maybe going to change their policy, but aren't actually going to admit to a change and will instead deny that it ever happened.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 10th, 2007 10:41 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: The Sainsbury's Incident File

I've called them again :) waiting for an answer too...

Paty
PS I am in the process of convincing a couple of other friends to call too :)
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 10th, 2007 10:45 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: The Sainsbury's Incident File

Hi - I've just called the Careline. The person I spoke to said that at this point there are no plans to change current labelling - any products that are currently labelled suitable for us Vegans will continue to be so labelled - but there is an investigation underway as to where the suggestion that it would be changed had come from. She also said that there were no plans to extend the labelling to new products as it was "not a legal requirement".
Lil' Ruby Rose
jonnynexus From: jonnynexus Date: January 10th, 2007 11:06 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: The Sainsbury's Incident File

Interesting. See my next post.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 11th, 2007 01:02 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: The Sainsbury's Incident File

Suitable for vegetarians/ vegans is dumb ass psyche anyway.

I don't want products suitable for vegans I want things that are suitable for everyone to enjoy.

Imagine how many idiots a day look at that labelling and think - ' I ain't one of them so I better buy summit else.'

the word vegan is 5 letters - why not just say vegan and save 13 letter spaces on the packaging!

My guess is there are too many folk at JSainsbury in need of hemp oil, who's brains are fuddled and swamped with saturated animal fat and suffering from chronic shortages of essential EPA
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 10th, 2007 10:19 pm (UTC) (Link)

Sainsbury

I rang Sainsbury Customer Service about six days ago. I wanted to check their mince pies were vegan as they were labeled suitable only for Vegetarians.

They were very helpful, they checked a file which they keep listing suitability. The mince pies were ok for vegans. I complained a little and suggested that they keep up vegan labelling as vegans are good customers.

Spooky that this should now blow up, but I suggest the more people ring up about products that they suspect are vegan but not labeled vegan, Sainsbury are all too willing to help and in the end I think it will help more accurate labeling.

kiwirevo From: kiwirevo Date: January 11th, 2007 09:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Hi JN - happy New Year!

I haven't been into LJ so far this year (busy on other sites lately) and just caught up with this discussion.

I would go further than you and say I don't see ANY logic whatsoever in their decision. To be honest, I can't see anyone not buying (using your example) Bourbon biscuits because they happen to be labelled vegan. people are either label savvy or they're not. I believe (but may well be wrong - it wouldn't be the first time) that if you are label savvy, you are more likely to be health-conscious and therefore undertsnad what vegan means and not see it as a bizarre alternative food. The non-label savvy will not bother to read the labelling.

The whole thing stinks.

You mention Co-op labels foods. What about Waitrose? I would expect them to although don't know for sure. Anyway - I was going to suggest you switch to a supemarket who does label foods properly and maybe get them to deliver your shopping so you don't have to worry about opening hours or how to get there.

Personally I am not a Sainsburys fan anyway. I do spend a bit of money there because it is the best located supermarket in Romford. It is directly opposite my gym so when I have to pay for parking on a saturday morning, I spend at least £10 in Sainsburys in order to have the parking reimbursed (obvioulsy only buying staples or thigns we need or that would be financially ridiculous!). It's also the most convenient place to visit after getting off the train and realising I need to get something for dinner and then jumping on the bus the rest of the way home. But I don't like the quality of their fresh food. Actually Asda is better in that regard - I know that's hard to believe. I bought some carrot batons in prep for a car journey before Christmas and a friend asked if I'd bought some special organic carrots because they were so fresh and tasty. If I buy the ones from Sainsburys they always taste as though they've been sitting around for months.

Sorry for the long comment but it has been ages...
jonnynexus From: jonnynexus Date: January 11th, 2007 10:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Asda don't label, and as far as I know, Waitrose don't either. Coop do, but there's only one little "metro" Coop within driving distance of us - although we'll no doubt start going there more often.

Ironically, some people think that Tescos might be about to start labelling. :)

And apparently the Bourbon Biscuits have already switched to say vegetarian only. :(
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 12th, 2007 08:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I really hope they don't change the labelling. It's not only convenient for me, but makes it easy for my family and friends to get stuff for when I come to visit...
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jonnynexus
Name: jonnynexus
About Me
Hi there,

This is no longer my primary blog. For a full explanation, go here, but basically this now only shows a daily digest of my Twitter feed, and you can find my actual blog at:

jonnynexus.com/blog.

Thanks, and hope to see you around.
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