Consumer series. Gloria Hunniford, Angela Rippon and Julia Somerville look at the cost of fish and chips, how much dairy farmers receive from a supermarket and foreign brand beers.
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There's a lot we don't know about the food on our plates
and the shops and labels don't always tell you the whole story.
I think they encourage you to buy more than you need
and that causes a lot of waste.
Whether you're staying in or going out,
you've told us you can feel ripped off
by the promises made for what you eat
-and what you pay for it.
-How do you know that it's half price?
What they've done, they've bumped the price up
and then knocked it down.
From claims that don't stack up to the secrets behind the packaging,
we'll uncover the truth about Britain's food,
so you can be sure you're getting what you expect at the right price.
Your food, your money. This is Rip-Off Britain.
Hello and a very warm welcome to Rip-Off Britain
and our specialist series,
getting our teeth into all sorts of things to do with food.
Today, we'll be investigating some of the favourites
in our cupboards and fridges - foods that most of us,
let's face it have grown up with and that, in some cases,
really are synonymous with Britain.
But we're going to be asking
if they're still synonymous with quality
and, indeed, whether or not they still offer
good old-fashioned value for money
because you've been telling us that the cost of some of those favourites
seems to have gone up rather more than perhaps it should.
So, we're going to see if that is really the case,
and, if so, why that is.
In some cases, of course,
it may be worth splashing out the extra money.
On the other hand, it could be that a cheaper option is just as good.
So, as ever, while we try to find out
whether you really DO get what you pay for
and if it even matters where it comes from,
we'll have plenty of tips and advice
to make sure you know exactly what you're getting for your money.
Coming up, the supermarket milk raising money for dairy farmers,
but not all of it goes to the ones that you might think.
When I first saw the labelling,
it stated that 23p per four pints was going back
to what I would assume was UK dairy farmers,
cos it represented a Union Jack on the label.
That's why we thought it was a good idea to pay the extra money.
And the bestselling lagers
whose ads go big on the countries they apparently come from,
so does it matter if, in fact, they're brewed a lot closer to home?
It is a bit misleading
if you're getting beers from foreign countries and we're brewing it here.
It's not really coming from a foreign country, is it?
A food story that's dominated the headlines in recent years
is how much dairy farmers are paid by the big supermarkets
for the milk that they sell them.
It's a tricky issue for consumers
because while we might want the price that we pay to stay low,
what we don't want is for that to be at the expense of the people
whose livelihood depends on actually producing it, which, of course,
is exactly what the industry says has been happening,
with some farmers squeezed out of business altogether.
While the issue remains a pretty hot potato,
one big-name store has come up with a solution
that does seem to offer shoppers a real choice on this.
But is it all that it seems? Well, that's the question
that one Rip-Off Britain viewer has asked us to look into.
The days when most of us
had our milk delivered to our doorstep are long gone.
Two semi-skinned, one silver top, number 18.
And though milk consumption is up,
the dairy farming industry is in crisis.
Since the year 2000,
over half of the UK's dairy farmers have gone out of business
and many say that that's because it costs them more to produce the milk
than the amount that they get back when they sell it.
And one of the reasons sometimes cited for this
is the competitive pricing of the supermarkets,
who've been accused of milking the industry dry.
-Supermarkets say their pricing deals are fair
but farmers say that they are paid less
for milk than it costs to produce.
All of this is news that bothered Malcolm Frances from Redditch.
He wants to make sure that more of his cash
ends up in the pockets of the farmers,
rather than the hands of the retailers.
So, when he heard about one of a number of supermarket schemes
that claimed to give farmers a better deal,
he was keen to find out more.
I first saw the Morrisons Milk For Farmers on television,
that they were going to bring it out.
Morrisons supermarket says it's introducing a special brand of milk
with 10p from every litre going to farmers which supply it.
And then a couple of weeks later, we actually found it
in our supermarket and that's how we started buying it.
The Milk For Farmers scheme offers customers the option
of paying a few pence more for their milk,
with the extra money going straight back to the producers.
And this is the milk in question -
a four-pint bottle of milk costing £1.12,
which is exactly 23p more than this exact same bottle,
four pints of milk, British milk, costing 89p.
But that's because... Look at the label.
It says, "We give 23p back to the farmer."
Which means the choice is yours. You can buy this four-pint bottle
and feel really good about yourself because you know that 23p
is going back to the hard-pressed dairy farmers.
But which ones?
The label, which says, "We give back to the farmer",
it doesn't say which farmers.
Although there's a Union Jack on here,
specifying that it's British milk,
it doesn't tell you which British farmers it goes back to.
So, where does the extra money go?
Well, the 23p added to the price of milk Malcolm bought at Morrisons
firstly goes to the UK's largest dairy company, Arla,
who distributes the milk
that they get from 12,700 dairy farms right across Europe.
The money raised from the milk sales are then split
between all of those farms and not just the 3,000 or so in the UK.
That's left Malcolm feeling like the scheme isn't quite as good
for British farmers as he first thought.
So much so, that he's now considering
not buying the milk altogether.
Is Malcolm right in considering
that the Union flag on the bottle is slightly misleading?
So, we've decided to put this labelling to the test
and ask the shoppers, here in Peterborough,
who they think gets this 23p.
Once they've guessed,
I'll ask them to put a sweetie in the corresponding milk bottle
for either the EU or Great Britain.
Can I ask you both to take a look at this?
"23p we give back to the farmer."
Now, looking at that label, who do you reckon gets that 23p?
-It should be OUR farmers, the British farmers, I think.
Yeah, with the Union Jack, "British Farmers" logo, yes.
-I would guess British farmers.
I would say British because you've got the Union Jack.
And the "British" up there,
so you'd say the British farmers, wouldn't you?
I would say British and European,
because it just says, "We give back to the farmer",
so I would just presume straightaway
that would be both European and British
because it doesn't actually say, "British".
Out of the 31 people we asked,
only seven thought that the extra money would be likely
to benefit farmers outside the UK.
The rest, like Malcolm, assumed it wouldn't go beyond our own shores.
I have to admit I'm not that surprised
that there were more shoppers, here in Peterborough,
that assumed that that 23p was going to British dairy farmers,
as opposed to the EU.
I was a bit confused to start with myself.
But, you know, nobody wants to knock an initiative
that's aimed at helping hard-pressed dairy farmers,
but I think our little straw poll demonstrates
that really that labelling could be a bit clearer.
But aside from the labelling, does the scheme benefit farmers
in the way that Malcolm had initially hoped?
Jonathan Ovens' family has owned this dairy farm,
here in Wiltshire, for over 150 years.
Come on, then. Up you go. Come on.
Jonathan supplies milk to Arla, so directly benefits
from the extra 23p charged at supermarket Morrisons.
He's keen to show Malcolm round his farm and provide reassurance
that whatever confusion there might be, it IS a good idea.
-Hello, Malcolm. Jonathan Ovens, pleased to meet you.
Seeing the Union Jack on the label, I presumed that all the 23p
-was going to go to all the UK dairy farmers.
-No, it doesn't.
The Union Jack on the label signifies that it's British milk
that the consumer's buying because we know the British consumer
wants to be assured that it's British milk that they're buying.
If I was to stop buying that extra 23p for four pints,
would it have an effect on the milk price?
Yes, I would get less for my milk as a result of you stopping buying it.
What Morrisons have done is they've enabled you, the consumer,
to make the conscious choice to pay that extra 23p for the milk
and I believe you've done it in the knowledge
that us, the farmers, are going to get that 23p.
At the end of the day, it's all down to my choice.
It's your choice and I would encourage you
to continue to buy that milk
because you're helping me, as a dairy farmer, directly.
We asked Morrisons whether the labelling
on its Milk For Farmers bottles is as clear as it could be
and the store told us that, following feedback from customers,
from early 2016, it has started to roll out
new labelling on these products.
It said the Union flag is still there because, Morrisons says,
it represents the fact that the milk is British, but in addition,
more information about how the Arla scheme works has now been added.
Of course, Morrisons isn't the only supermarket
to have introduced some sort of scheme
through which they can claim to support dairy farmers.
Asda told us that, under a long-term contract,
it's own-brand milk is also supplied by Arla
and it bears Arla's "Farmer Owned" mark,
which means that all earnings go back to farmers.
M&S, Sainsbury's, the Co-op and Tesco all said
that under their own schemes, they pay farmers fixed amounts
that are not linked to volatile retail prices.
M&S has been doing this for 16 years
under its Milk Pledge Plus programme.
It links the prices it pays to its 40-strong pool of farmers
to the costs that THEY pay for production.
As does Tesco, which told us that, since 2007,
it has worked with farmers in its Sustainable Dairy Group,
to set the price it pays them for its own-brand milk
higher than the costs of production.
Tesco says this means its British suppliers are paid...
Sainsbury's said it reviews the set price it pays
the 290 farmers supplying its own-brand milk every three months,
working in collaboration with its Dairy Development Group.
Sainsbury's told us that these farmers make a profit
from every pint of milk sold.
Meanwhile, the Co-op and Waitrose both told us that they, too, work
in collaboration with farmers to set a fair price for their milk
and that these prices are reviewed regularly.
But while all that paints a very rosy picture,
it's only a matter of months since protests from the dairy industry,
which saw farmers herding cattle through supermarkets,
led to the big names agreeing
to increase the amount that they pay for milk
and though that was welcomed by the National Farmers Union,
it still claimed that some stores continue to pay
less than the milk cost to produce.
As for Malcolm,
seeing how farmers like Jonathan can benefit from the Morrisons scheme,
has restored his faith in it and he's now started paying
that little bit extra for milk once again.
Jonathan made me really understand about the running of the farms,
of producing that extra pint to go on everybody's table,
and if he can't make a profit, then his business will suffer
so, therefore, what Morrisons have done to help them is a good idea.
I will still buy it, hoping it will make a difference.
Nearly eight billion pints of lager were consumed in Britain
just last year alone and, while most of it is very heavily marketed
as coming from overseas, in reality it's much more likely
to come from somewhere much closer to home.
So, if a beer is sold as being European,
Asian, American, Australian
or even if it has a label in a foreign language,
does it actually matter if it's brewed
in, say, Manchester or Northampton?
We hit the town to find out how much drinkers really know
about where their favourite tipple comes from
and whether their enthusiasm goes a little bit flat
when they find out that what they thought was a bit exotic
actually has just benefitted from some very effective marketing.
Wine may have now overtaken beer
as Britain's most popular alcoholic drink,
but the good old pint is enjoying a revival.
Traditional British ales are back in fashion
but lager is still the beer that Brits buy the most.
And many of the bestselling brands are those we associate
with either Continental Europe or even further afield
and that's thanks
to multimillion-pound marketing campaigns
that champion their national heritage.
You little ripper.
Most foreign lagers are synonymous with their country of origin,
so much so, that when we asked punters at this Manchester pub
to guess the country of origin for these particular brews,
most of them were right every time.
Kronenbourg's French. France.
Is it German beer?
I would associate Becks with Germany.
Cobra beer's associated with India.
-San Miguel is associated with Spain.
Stella is from Belgium.
Full marks. But the reality behind those slick marketing campaigns
is a little different because, despite what you might think,
90% of the UK's consumption of these apparently foreign brands
is actually brewed right here in the UK.
Take Foster's, for example, one of Britain's bestselling beers.
One of its ads claimed the name was "Australian for lager".
In 1888, William and Ralph Foster gave Australia
its first taste of true refreshment.
Based on the adverts, I'd definitely say Australia.
In fact, the amber nectar in most of the UK's cans of Foster's
is actually made, not Down Under, but in Manchester.
And what's more synonymous with India than a bottle of Cobra?
Cobra - splendidly Indian, superbly smooth.
-I associate Cobra with India.
-Just need a curry now.
But most UK Cobras are brewed miles away from India,
in fact, in Burton upon Trent.
Next, a beer that conjures up sun, sand and the Spanish Costas -
San Miguel. Now, that's a beer with an amazing story.
I associate this beer with Spain.
But most of the San Miguel you'll drink here in the UK
is brewed in the not-so-hot Northampton.
Take a good look and you'll see
that these all these bottles do have a clear disclaimer,
saying that they are, indeed, brewed in the UK.
That message flashes up in the ads as well.
But drink connoisseurs, like Jamie Goode,
believe that the marketing of such lagers
can be misleading to British drinkers,
who may be tempted to pay more for these so-called foreign brands.
I think we Brits quite like foreign things.
We find them interesting and, when it comes to beer,
I think the Brits, generally speaking,
are prepared to pay more for beers that are foreign,
that come from somewhere else, with a nice image associated with them.
If you go into a pub, you'll see some of the most expensive lagers
are the ones that are from other countries.
So, after our pub goers had been so definite
about where they thought these lagers came from,
how did they react when we revealed where they're really brewed?
It's a Spanish beer, so I'd expect it to be brought over from Spain.
It is a bit misleading if you're getting beers
from foreign countries and we're brewing it here.
It's not really coming from a foreign country, is it?
If it tastes good, I don't think it should matter,
but I don't think they should rip you off for drinking import beer
when it's not import beer.
It is misleading, isn't it?
It shouldn't be brewed in Manchester when it's from Australia,
supposedly, you know.
I can't imagine the Aussies drinking that, myself.
I don't mind where it's brewed as long as it was brewed
to the same recipe as the country that it comes from.
So, while some drinkers did feel they were being misled,
others simply don't care where their lagers are brewed,
as long as it all tastes nice.
And that's a view the Advertising Standards Authority took
over this 2014 ad from Kronenbourg.
Featuring the former French
and Manchester United football legend Eric Cantona,
it plays on the whole idea that the lager embodies the French spirit.
Here, in Alsace, things are a little bit different.
The hop farmers are treated like the footballers of Britain.
They are idolised and adored, and why not?
They are living legends.
So, there you go.
A complaint was made that the ad was misleading
because it suggested the beer was brewed in France
when, in actual fact, it was in Manchester.
While, initially, it seemed the regulator would take the same view,
ultimately it changed its mind and said that the ad was fine
because its focus was on the hops used to produce the beer,
which were sourced in France, rather than the brewing process itself.
We spoke to the brewers of all those lagers
commonly associated with more far-flung lands.
All said they are proud to brew their beers in the UK,
while reiterating that they don't make any secret of this fact
on their labels.
Heineken UK, which makes Foster's and Kronenbourg's 1664, told us
that brewing in Britain provides employment to thousands of people
and contributes millions of pounds to the economy,
while very reasonably pointing out that...
The companies all emphasised that the heritage of their beers
is firmly rooted in the countries they're associated with,
with many of them still using the same recipes or even ingredients
as they were when they were first brewed.
Foster's, for example, still uses the same Australian yeast.
But, for Jamie, it's all about transparency for the customer
and he reckons that the growth in popularity
of traditional British ales is a sign
that the novelty of those not-quiet-so-foreign lagers
may be starting to fade.
I would urge the big brewers to make it clearer
which beers are actually imported
and which beers are produced under licence here in the UK.
One of the great things this resurgence of interest
in British beer has done,
is it means that people are moving away
from this conspicuous consumption,
this "I've got this posh foreign lager in my glass
"that doesn't actually taste particularly different
"or particularly foreign", and then moving towards,
"Actually, I've got an authentic product in my glass
"that tastes interesting and is something we can be proud of."
What's your favourite food? Well, among us Brits,
curries and roast chicken come pretty high on the list
and so, of course, does fish and chips.
In fact, would you believe that every year,
we spend more than £1 billion on satisfying our appetite for them.
And though the fish and chips may not have changed too much
over the years, what you pay for them may well have done.
And that's what our next viewer wrote to us about.
He's been buying fish and chips for over 40 years
and he wants to know why,
when his meal is almost identical to the one he bought decades ago,
he's now paying so much more for the privilege of eating it.
Fish and chips consumption is on the rise
and while it's still a long way short of its First World War heyday,
we now eat some 382 million portions every year.
That's about six servings
for every man, woman and child in the country.
But, as the popularity of fish and chips has shot up,
has its price gone the same way?
Well, that's certainly the suspicion of Rip-Off Britain viewer
and dedicated fish-and-chipper John Spicer from Bodmin.
John said that in 1960, he remembers
a fish and chip supper cost one and sixpence.
I'd love to be able to say I'm far too young
to remember what that means but, in fact, I know
it works out at about £1.54 in today's money
and you don't need me to tell you that these days,
you're likely to have to pay a whole lot more than that
for your fish and chips.
John pays between £6 and £8 for his fish and chips
and says he'd like to know why. It seems to him
the cost has risen four times more than the rate of inflation.
So, is he right that the price of fish and chips,
still the UK's favourite dish, has gone up more than it should?
A good place to start
is by asking one of the UK's biggest fish and chips suppliers.
VA Whitley has been a family business for well over 100 years.
Its founder's grandson, Tony Rogers, is now the company's chairman.
But it's clear this isn't a question with a simple answer.
So, Tony, what affects the cost of fish and chips?
Well, it's, basically, down to supply and demand.
For example, in the restaurant world,
there's been a heck of a run on sea bass,
so sea bass has been over-caught and now it's getting fairly short
and, as a consequence, more expensive.
Obviously, you have to pass your own costs on to your customers
-who are the fish and chip shops.
So, once the suppliers' prices go up,
that increase is passed on to the individual shops.
The Bridge restaurant is in Norden, Greater Manchester,
where a standard fish and chips is £4.90.
It's the owner, Tom, who has to deal with all the fluctuations
in those wholesale costs and he's got a surprising way of doing it.
So, Tom, tell me what goes into the pricing of fish and chips?
We buy our fish in fresh
so, obviously, that's dependent on the market prices.
Obviously, potatoes, they range in price quite a lot,
so it's just a case of what the market predicts.
We try and set our prices
so we're not raising them and lowering them throughout the year.
I don't understand how that works, though,
because if the cost of the individual commodities
are going up and down, how do you manage to keep your prices level?
It's very tough.
Sometimes we're not making a great deal of money on the product,
other times we're making a living out of it.
It's just dependent on, like I say, what the market predictions are.
A good example of how costs to a business like this can vary
is with cod.
Up until 2012, it was on the Marine Conservation Society's
endangered list of fish.
But now, its numbers are back up, as is our appetite for it
and if there's plenty more fish in the sea, that's good news for Tom.
I'm heading five miles down the road to Tompsons chippy in Bury,
where its 85-year-old owner, Jack,
may be able to help answer that question
about whether prices really have risen more than they should.
He's been here since the 1970s,
although his daughter, Caroline, has now taken the business on.
And when it comes to the cost of it,
when did you last put your prices up?
We haven't put our prices up for over five years now.
Even though the cost of fish
and the cost of potatoes and so on has fluctuated?
I don't think you can keep putting your prices up
cos I think people would get quite disgruntled,
so sometimes you just have to swallow it.
It's a bitter pill to swallow, but it's just a fact.
Fish and chips has always been thought of as an affordable treat.
Here, at Tompsons, a standard portion is £4.70
and Jack, who's been frying for the last 40 years,
thinks that, while the prices have gone up,
it's all in line with everything else.
What's more, Jack reckons
these days we're getting a bigger fish for our money.
I'd say the portions now are twice as high as what they were then.
We used to do a 2oz, now they're 4oz or 6oz.
And the chips they give now
are a hell of a lot more than we used to give.
It's not just Jack who'd say that the portion sizes have rocketed.
Supplier Tony agrees.
His own research shows that the average size
of a standard fish was 2.5oz, back in the 1960s,
which he puts down to the hangover from post-war rationing.
Today he says that a portion of fish has increased dramatically
and there's a distinct north-south divide.
In the north, the average size is between 6oz and 8oz.
But in the south, it's 8oz to 12oz.
Either way, according to Tony,
you're getting much more than you would have done in the 1960s,
when the average helping
was more like our mini fish and chips option today.
So, is it correct that the price of fish
we eat at our chippies has rocketed?
Here at Rip-Off Britain, we tried to work it out.
With so many sizes, prices and outlets across the UK,
pinning down just one average national price
for our fish and chips isn't easy.
But taking everything into account,
some analysts have estimated it to be around £3.30,
rising to £5.50 in London.
The industry itself doesn't have an official figure,
but its own comparisons would probably put the costs
a little higher, with a good deal of regional variation.
Unsurprisingly, they found
the priciest fish and chips were in London,
where a standard cod or haddock and chips
can be as much as £9.90 a portion.
Scotland wasn't far behind, with the most expensive around £9.50,
although in some places, you'd pay only half that.
In Northern Ireland, prices were typically around £6.40
and the cheapest chippies overall were in the Midlands,
where you'd typically pay anything between £4.50 and £6.95.
Now, that's by no means a comprehensive survey
and you'll no doubt know individual places
where you can pick up a portion for more
or, with any luck, less than those industry figures.
But what's interesting is that, once you take a closer look,
they may not show as much of a rise
as John from Bodmin had feared when he wrote to us.
Once you've taken into account those bigger portion sizes
and added on 20% VAT, which wasn't included
in the price of fish and chips before the early 1980s,
the modern equivalent of the one shilling and sixpence
he used to pay works out at around £6.66.
That's not far off the typical prices
I've seen on MY fish deliveries.
And fish and chip shop owner Jack agrees.
So, people who perhaps complain now
-about the price of fish and chips...
Do you have sympathy with them or do you think they've got it wrong?
I think they've got it wrong.
If you compare with other prices, it's just...
..almost the same.
If you think that you're paying over the odds for anything,
then do please let us know.
And it's not just problems or questions to do with what you eat
that we want to hear about.
It could be any consumer problem whatsoever.
That's because we've got plenty more Rip-Off Britain programmes
coming up over the next few months,
so it's not just for this series on food
that your e-mails and letters are our bread and butter.
Any situation that's left you feeling let-down or out of pocket,
just get in touch with us
and, if we can, we'll do our very best to help, won't we?
We really do appreciate all your e-mails and letters
and we're only sorry that there isn't time
to look into all of them, aren't we?
But remember, you can always find tips and advice on our website.
Even when we're not on the air,
you can join the conversations on our Facebook page.
But we'll see you again very soon with more of your stories,
-so until then, from all of us, goodbye.
Gloria Hunniford, Angela Rippon and Julia Somerville look at the true cost of Britain's fish and chips. They also examine how much a supermarket claims it passes on to dairy farmers and reveal how lagers trading off their foreign roots actually have their origins closer to home.