Branding produce with fictional farm names has backfired somewhat for a U.K. supermarket keen to respond to consumer concerns over the origin of food.  Farmers groups, the press and social media have all responded negatively to the move, which has been described as “shocking,” possibly misleading and redolent of horsegate.

The  new “farms” range -- an entry level own brand across fresh produce and meat --  was introduced in March this year, yet the discontent generated by the branding continues to rumble on. The range features rustic labeling and the various lines are sold under names including Willow Farms, Nightingale Farms, Woodside and Boswell Farms.

The all sound lovely, don’t they? The problem is, none of these farms actually exists!

And while Willow Farms, the name given to chicken line, does contain 100 percent U.K.-raised chicken, this is not the case across all the lines, with produce coming from as far as Morocco and Chile -- not quite the countries conjured up by the branding choices.

Need for clear labeling

Chief food advisor with the UK’s National Farmers Union Ruth Mason, was among those less than convinced by this attempt to engage with consumers. She said: “It’s vital that shoppers have accurate, clear labeling on the origin of any British food or drink product in order to make an informed choice about what they are buying.

“We recognize that Tesco has chosen to brand these products with fictional farming names – a marketing technique practiced in Aldi and Lidl on selected product lines. There will inevitably be shoppers who are led to believe that the fictional names of the farms are the real source of the product – this make the need for clear and accurate origin labeling even greater.”

Not everyone, however, was quite so measured in their response.

Funny farm

“Setting up phony farms? Somebody needs to be sent to the funny farm,” and “I like to know where my food comes from. After Tesco and the horse meat scandal I do not trust their meat,” were among online comments in response to the revelation that the brand names were simply a piece of marketing.

Tesco, however, has defended its actions.

Mail Online, home to above comments, has subsequently reported since the story first broke, that Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis, has said that U.K. consumers were aware that Tesco was so big that it could not source all its products from individual farms and that the farm launch was the most significant thing he had done since taking over as CEO in September 2014.

The supermarket has further defended the move saying that all of its packaging clearly displays country of origin information. Despite Lewis’ claims, Independent retail analysts have, however, described the branding as communicating “quality and provenance connotations.”

Is there a Nightingale Farm in Morocco – the source of cherry tomatoes in the range? It’s not the first place that springs to mind to me, although I have no objection to eating Moroccan tomatoes.

By including country of origin on its packaging, it could be argued that Tesco is being transparent with this new range, and that consumers need to look harder before they buy. But how many actually do?

It’s worth remembering that, all too often, he who shouts loudest gets heard, and given the size of the branding labels when compared to the country of origin information on the packaging, I have a fair idea of which message will be communicated to consumers.

I will leave you to decide the wisdom of this latest branding exercise.