Food Policy

Grocer Fined for Selling Strawberries Too Cheaply!


Via the Twitter feed of Keep Food Legal, the nonprofit dedicated to "culinary freedom," comes this confusing tale of commerce from the U.K.: The supermarket chain Tesco was fined beacoup bucks (plenty o' pounds?) for the horrifying act of selling strawberries at half-price for longer than they sold them at full-price.

That sort of practice runs afoul of Britain's Office of Fair Trading, which says that having sales that last longer than the original price is offered is "misleading" to customers. Even on seasonal products that, you know, ripen and rot on the shelves.

Got that? The chain has been fined for making things cheaper (to show just how rotten the company is, they even threw in cartons of free cream in certain cases)!

It's a reminder about how agricultural and price-setting policy tends to be in most countries, including the U.S. Going back at least to FDR, ag policy almost always revolves around making things more expensive for consumers rather than cheaper. All in the name of fairness.

Read more about it here.

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  1. They’re trying to sell things cheaply? Those bastards!

  2. What if they just called it a new low price instead of a sale… Silly law.

    1. It sounds like that’s the real issue. Nothing was wrong with them selling the strawberries at the new price. They violated a rule that 1/2 price sales have to be based on a meaningful original price, that once the product has been offered at the 1/2 off price longer than the full price then it is not 1/2 of any actual price anymore. I’m sure Reason could work an angle on that so I don’t see why Herr Gillespie decided to work from this obtuse or deceptive angle.

      1. Jesus Christ.

        1. “Jesus Christ” you say?

          Let me tell you about our half-penance redemption sale.

        2. Good talking with you. Bye!

  3. It’s difficult to believe that place birthed us. No, wait, maybe it isn’t.

  4. How does the joke go?

    If you sell lower than your competitors, you’re undercutting in an effort to monopolize.
    If you sell higher than your competitors, you’re price-gouging.
    If you sell at the same price as your competitors, you’re colluding.

    1. If I didn’t know better I’d suspect that there are some people out there who just don’t like the idea of private businesses providing goods and/ or services to people who need them at any price. Because, EVULPROFITZ!!!!1!!!!111!!

      1. Critique of the Gotcha Program?

        Okay, that was bad, even for me…

    2. How does the joke go?

      That’s no joke, that’s three different rulings against GE when I was young. They were also forced to teach their competition how to compete with them.

    3. Further proof that all private business (wo)men are criminals!

    4. The version I usually hear has “dumping” for the first clause…

  5. having sales that last longer than the original price is offered is “misleading” to customers.

    Those poor consumers. It’s a wonder they can even find their way to the grocery store at all.

    1. How dare they lead customers to believe that strawberries are easier to get in the summer! Next thing they’ll want is to put candy on sale in early November!

      (Do Brits do Halloween?)

  6. Well, in Britain’s defense, they are an island of socialist inbreds.

    1. they are an island of drunkensocialist inbreds

      fixed that for you

      1. Proper html use is too pricey for me, apparently.

    2. The problem is, its been too long since the last successful invasion.

      They used to get fresh breeding stock every few years or centuries or so.

      Not really anything since 1066. I dont think enough Dutch came over with the Glorious Revolution.

      1. Well, they got German monarchs in 1714.

        1. Scotch-Germans.

          The Winter Queen of Bohemia was the daughter of James V of Scotland, after all.

          And Im not talking about royalty. One family doesnt matter. Im talking about the soldiers and etc that come with an invasion.

  7. Alt-text is homophobic. Jeez, Nick.

  8. As an expat there is a different mindset over there with the annoying unspoken assumption that UK society is more “advanced” etc. than those crazy yanks. On trips back back to the UK have tried the argument any society that doesn’t explicity recognize freedom of expression or the right to own and bear arms for self defense is decadent and uncivilized and its time for the UK to get with the program here. You get an interesting response.

    1. I’ve always wondered how the irony manages to escape Europeans in general and Brits in particular of simultaneously castigating Americans for being arrogant pricks who stick their nose in other countries’ politics, while presuming themselves eminently qualified, every man jack of them, to offer commentary on American life and politics.

      1. Actually it’s a lot more subtle than that.

        A British woman told me Americans are arrogant, Brits are pompous. I think that has a lot of truth. Brits, and Europeans in general, also have a core of insecurity behind the pomposity. And then there is the fact that all Europeans think they are experts on America because they’ve seen every Simpsons and Friends episode.

        1. A European actually told me that he knew about life in the US because he had seen Lost. Yes, and I know about life in Wales because I’ve seen Torchwood.

          1. I’ve never seen it openly admitted to, usually it’s just an unspoken assumption, so blatant that they are not even aware of it.

          2. So life in the US can be inferred about because Lost was written by Americans? It’s not as if it portrays life in the USA in particular; the scenes in it are distributed almost equally all over the world. But the irony is that the writing was an adaptation of mostly British material: A.C. Doyle’s Tales of Terror and Mystery, A. Moore’s Watchmen, the TV series Dept. S, and the IRL loss of rail Engine 115 into a sinkhole in Lindal-in-Furness on Sept. 22, 1892.

          3. Well, I watched Twin Peaks, Northern Exposure and Wings. Where can I write my thesis paper?

        2. I guess its true you can learn a lot about US culture, politics etc from The Simpsons and actually that show is an example of one our great cultural exports. Friends on the other hand…no.

          Also anyone familiar with mainstream UK media will know that US politics and current affairs is covered very extensively, that may contribute something to the feeling of understanding life in the US.

          1. Or a feeling of overconfident understanding. I’ve absolutely destroyed snobbish Europeans who thought their shit didn’t stink and/or that all Americans are naive, in arguments. Being a 15 year expat myself I’m used to being outnumbered and having to engage in rhetorical guerrilla warfare.

            1. I think you’re probably referring to a cultural demographic we could call the “BBC set”.

              Still, I’m heartened, all my nephews love all things US! One of them was even wearing a Stars and Stripes T-shirt last time I was back.

              1. Does the ‘BBC set’ refer to people like Stephen Fry who is lauded as the smartest man in Britain yet gloriously revels in his ignorance of the ‘flyover states’ like any other left-wing east coast intellectual?

                1. Yep he would qualify, wonder who his PBS equivalent is…?

                  Also with respect to intra-US snobbery/elitism, I’ve often received puzzled looks when I tell other yanks that my favorite part of the US is the South (it really is) and I think Southern accents are great (not the Tom Petty album, though that indeed is one of his finest!)

                  1. Mad dogs and Englishmen 😉

                    1. Scottish acually!

                2. This is going back a bit but before I left the UK I used to watch the BBC flagship news show Newsnight. They regularly had an American expat on the show for the arts segment who exhibited the BBC mindset to perfection, no matter what they were discussing, books, movies, art, ballet, opera she always managed to get a dig in or pass a barbed remark about US vs UK culture, I would actually wait for it to appear!

                  1. This is totally unpossible. I’ve been assured by earnest Beeb employees that the BBC is the most incredibly impartial news source in the entire Universe. Sure, they all vote Labour or LibDem but they understand impartiality like no one else.

                    1. And I’m sure they think they’re being sincere when they say this its just they report/filter/ process information with assumptions that are never questioned or that they’re even aware of. Same thing with PBS, public radio here, except no license required!

                    2. Yup, the main difference being that PBS and NPR are pretty much fringe players in the States, whilst BBC is a heavyweight in Britain and abroad.

                      And then there’s BBC World Service *shudders*

                    3. Of course there’s always Top Gear on BBC America.

                    4. Or The Archers on BBC radio 4, the worlds longest running soap opera to use the US term, been running continuously since the Second World War!

            2. Canadians are the MASTERS of the inferiority, navel gazing complex when it comes to the USA. Masters. Fuck the Brits on that front. We have them beat hands down when it comes to pseudo-nationalism vis-a-vis the USA.

              And Quebecers are the worst offenders. Bitch, moan, insult anything American but boy to they invade its shores.

              1. Canada is definitely Second Country in the same way Chicago is Second City.

      2. the irony manages to escape Europeans in general and Brits in particular of simultaneously castigating Americans for being arrogant pricks who stick their nose in other countries’ politics

        Irony?! The British are past masters at that!! A large part of the blame for the present fucked up state of the world lies with the British.

        1. In Flashman’s defense, all he ever wanted was to get laid and maybe bask in a bit of glory.

    2. Probably like telling the average American that ‘American exceptionalism ‘ is a load of shit.

      1. Actually no, the US is exceptional and unique in that its founding document does explicitly recognize those natural rights. Not the case in the UK, or for the rest of the world for that matter.

        1. Yes, but how many Americans even know about the concept of natural rights or negative vs positive rights? Unfortunately, the concept is mostly applied the foreign policy these days. In the majority of minds it’s mostly a variant of, “America, fuck ya”.

          1. True, few understand or are aware of those distinctions.

  9. This is, of course, extremely dumb, but it sounds like it has more to do with deceptive advertising than “agricultural and price-setting policy”. Like, I assume it would be a clear violation of this law to advertise that your products normally cost $100 (or pounds, or whatever), but right now they’re on sale for only $10, and then just have the product always be on sale.

    So, a somewhat different thing. But still dumb.

    1. That was my understanding as well. Like the perpetual suit sale at Jos. A Bank. Although getting right down to it, it’s the exact same thing by a different name.

    2. Yes, still dumb. We all know of products that never sell at the supposed MSRP or anywhere close to it, and yet consumers manage to figure out the game.

      Then again, without government, who would ensure that the less affluent have access to inexpensive produce? Food deserts and all that.

  10. I do believe that describing something as a “sale” is misrepresentation when the price is typically the same or lower. However, I am not sure why one needs to invoke “fraud” and call down the power of the Staat…

    1. Exactly. Consumers are pretty good at sniffing that shit out. A local small business here perpetually has 70% off signs. That should raise an eyebrow. One place sells GEOX at 50%. But a friend told me the price was already “ballooned” in the first place so that the “discount” is in-line with any retailer so there really isn’t a deal.

      Go to outlets for deals.

  11. “I want to give ’em away, but the government won’t let me!”
    (with apologies to Mad Man Muntz)

  12. it sounds like it has more to do with deceptive advertising

    Right. Consumers show no preference for fresh fruit. They’re just being manipulated; advertising is mind control.

  13. Go to buy fireworks in New Hampshire almost every store (in Seabrook anyway) sells everything half price. All the time. Guess that would be a crime in jolly ‘ol England.

    1. No, just selling them! Think they still sell them around the 5th Nov though.

      Now when I was a little tyke in UK the requirement for buying fireworks was the ability to reach over the counter with cash in hand!

  14. Before getting to huffy at the Brits on this one, please note that just about every jurisdiction in the US and Canada has these kinds of regulations.

    Of course, the regulations are all about “protecting” the consumer and we are all better off because of regulation. /snark

    1. There’s probably a better chance here of striking down those idiotic laws.

      Now, lets move on to the French…

      1. There’s probably a better chance here of striking down those idiotic laws.

        When was the last time that the SCOTUS struck down a law on the grounds that the US Government didn’t have the power to regulate something?

        Now, lets move on to the French…

        French food and culture is superb. They also do some exceptional engineering. Their social and economic policies suck.

        1. parts of the culture, movie, sorry, film directors.. Truffaut etc.

        2. French food and culture is superb.

          Well, that’s why we call them cheese eating surrender monkeys.

        3. French food and culture is superb. They also do some exceptional engineering.

          Jesus Christ can’t we at least agree to hate the fucking French? Are you a Tulpa sockpuppet?

  15. The OFT adopted new pricing principles in November 2012 to clarify approaches to promotions. Eight supermarkets signed up to these principles, including Tesco.

    It’s not clear to me from the story whether the fine in the current case was for violations of regs that Tesco had no choice in or for violating a voluntary agreement. There’s no indication the “principles” were a consent decree (or whatever they call it over there), but it’s also not clear whether the current fine was for violation of the principles or for violation of broader underlying regs.

    It is possible to voluntarily submit to gov’t regulation that has actual teeth. For instance, although the FFDCA does not require registration of cosmetic makers the way it does for drug makers, FDA has since the 1990s had a voluntary registration program for them. If you sign on, you are subject to GMPs and to inspections; there is no other benefit to it than being able to advertise that you are registered. It’s actually a good model for drug reform.

  16. Ok, ok, even leaving shit like Britain’s Office of Fair Trading aside: What use is the arbitrary metric of “time on shelf?”

    I’d be willing to bet if they looked at volume Tesco sold more units while not on sale (fresh) than they did on sale (rotting).

    1. Irrelevant.

      The grocer I go to regularly puts certain items that I buy “on sale”. The “sales” are so regular that I time my purchases to stock up during the “sale” period. From the way that the stock moves and the shelves get cleared out during the “sales”, I don’t think I am the only one who does this.

      1. Right, because I’m sure you’ve studied grocery inventory management for your entire life.

        Also, of course it’s irrelevant; the “office of FAIR trade” is bullshit anyways.

        1. I think we are agreeing.

          I meant that the “time on the shelf” metric was irrelevant, but so is the metric of sales volume while on sale vs sales volume while not on sale.

          The entire concept of a ‘loss leader’ is foreign to those who want to regulate prices, even though it is a perfectly valid marketing tool.

  17. That sort of practice runs afoul of Britain’s Office of Fair Trading

    Am I reading a news piece or an excerpt from an Ayn Rand novel I have yet to know?

  18. which says [the OFT] that having sales that last longer than the original price is offered is “misleading” to customers[…]

    I’m thinking that it must be a gread advantage for all those citizens to live in a country where you have so many mind-readers working for such a lofty cause as making sure customers are not being “mislead.”

  19. Under these sorts of guidelines, we’d have to close down every tourist trap in every tourist town in the US. It doesn’t seem to matter where you go, stores selling to tourists almost always have a 50% off sign in the window.

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