Chickens, Hugh, Tesco and the Credit Crunch Too

Did you see Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chickens, Hugh and Tesco Too last night? The Channel Four programme documented Hugh’s campaign, which began last year, to improve conditions for supermarket chickens. As we keep our own hens, Lexi and Molly, I was keen to find out what had gone on behind the scenes in the much-publicised wrangle with Tesco.

If you didn’t see it, what began with Hugh just trying to get a TV interview with Tesco’s management escalated into him buying a share in Tesco, attempting to get City investors onside, and tabling a resolution at Tesco’s AGM last summer. He argued that its standard indoor hen rearing system was incompatible with its claim to uphold the ‘Five Freedoms’, a set of animal husbandry principles ensuring animals lead stress-free lives.

Ultimately Hugh lost the AGM battle, but I think he won the war. Even as cynical former stock market journalist, I was appalled by Tesco’s apparent conduct. Admittedly we only really see Hugh’s side of the story and as a chicken owner I am biased. But the supermarket comes across as a bad egg.

Tesco appears to have given Hugh the interview run around for months. Eventually when it agreed to give one, management hid behind some poor media relations officer with no policy-making clout, who was forced to defend company policy on camera. To top it all, at the eleventh hour, the company insisted that Hugh fork out £86k for postage of the special resolution papers.

If you ask me, they were poorly advised. Why didn’t they stand up and be counted right away? A member of the management team should simply have stood up and said: “You know what, Hugh, our customers can’t afford to pay £7 for a free range chicken. They’re struggling to feed their families and they can only pay £2.50. We give them what they want. With all your money, you might be able to pay £7 or even raise your own hens, but they can’t. So there!” Why weren’t they brave enough to do that?

Personally I firmly believe we should pay a little more for at least an RSPCA Freedom Food bird, which is still factory farmed but has more room to move and express its natural behaviours, such as perching. I try to eat free range, but then I can afford to do so. However, I would have had respect for a logical financial argument on Tesco’s part. Instead it behaved like a childish bully. At least they have now upgraded their own Willow Farm chicken to conform with RSPCA Freedom Food standards.

Some fund managers interviewed argued that investors only care about profits. But some of them admitted that shareholders are also increasingly concerned with what they call ‘reputational risk’. If big companies behave badly it reflects on investors. And eventually profits fall as customers vote with their feet.

Certainly before I stopped working in the City nearly 18 months ago, investors had started to concern themselves with reputational risk in general, as well as environmental issues. But are they so concerned with it now that we’re in a recession? What’s more, in the midst of the credit crunch, just how relevant to consumers is Hugh’s battle now? Are people still worrying about the conditions chickens are bred in or are they only interested in obtaining cheap food?

I’d love to think Hugh’s campaign will galvanise us all into checking labels and thinking about the chicken we buy, as his Chicken Run programme did last year. And although I’m running an especially tight ship financially at the moment, I would rather eat less chicken and ensure it’s free range.

But if you’re facing redundancy, will chicken welfare be the first thing on your mind when you enter the supermarket?

What do you think about Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s chicken welfare campaign? Will you be buying free range/RSPCA Freedom Food chicken or has the recession put paid to that? Leave a message and let me know what you think.

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41 Responses to Chickens, Hugh, Tesco and the Credit Crunch Too

  1. olwen says:

    I believe at this time were most families are attempting to feed their families on a tight budget they along with myself will always go with the cheapest option. Yes I did find the rearing process highlighted by the programme disgusting and feel that it is these conditions that should be scrutinised by the RSPCA . People still have to eat but food does not have to be produced un humainly -take a leaf out of Fair Trades book

  2. Christine says:

    I\’d say that no supermarket can afford to have its reputation dented at the moment – people can always shop somewhere else for food. I believe that Tesco has found that it\’s takings are a little bit lower than at the same time last year, so they won\’t be keen to have shoppers persuaded to go elsewhere. People have the option of not buying the chickens, even going vegetarian if they feel strongly on the subject. Being a vegetarian is certainly a frugal option given a good cookbook and some common sense. Beans on toast anyone? Winter soup with lentils? The soup will be cheaper than the chicken and feed you more.

  3. Stephen says:

    I find it hard that tesco could not give hugh 10 min with someone who give a positive reply to his questions. Tescos should hang thier heads in shame over this issue. In this day we should be told how our food is grown or reared.

  4. Cameron says:

    from cameron, it amazing how many people iv\’e heard while shopping that they can\’t afford free range or organic food. yet the same people when watch them at the tills it\’s a case of a couple of packets of fags at least one six pack of lager and at least another five pond or so on the lotto and the poor kids there with get a pile of crap. it\’s a case of what is more important yourself or the welfare of your family. i\’m not saying you can\’t enjoy yourself, but your children if you have any must come first. love your show Hugh more power to your elbow.

  5. Catherine says:

    Hugh\’s right to campaign about the welfare of chickens, I\’m on a low income but I\’ll only buy freedom food chicken/chicken pieces for my family (unfortunately, free range chickens are a little out of my price range). I think that these birds (or any animal we breed for food) should have some quality of life and I honestly think, that by making the birds\’ lives as natural as possible, the quality becomes better.

  6. Brian says:

    its allright for hugh to potificate from alofty position about the condition that the chickens where living in but if you are only getting£ 60 pounds a week state benefit the moral high ground seems a step too far ,after all hugh is getting paid from channel four for his crusade so ithink he should try living on state benefit for a while then the welfare of the chickens would be the last thing on his mind regards brian

  7. Bob says:

    We can all afford free range and/or organic chicken, if we want to, its just a matter of priority and proportion. I guess you\’ll find most people that buy cheap chicken throw a lot of it away. There priority is for convenient / junk food.I have very little respect for the RSPCA, as they will put there name to farmers and do not monitor their standards as you would expect ( its all to do with money of course ).So I buy organic chicken once a week and it produces several good meals ( if you use it all)Low income families use it as an excuse to be lazy and indulge themselves in other expensive habits – this argument just does not wash with me, so please can we stop feeling so sorry for them.I am a low income household ( and I have never recieved or wanted benefits )As for Tesco, what a bumch of jumped up jerks.Thats it, I feel much better now

  8. LORRAINE says:

    I will always buy organic or free range chicken it tastes alot nicer and when it is being cooked there is hardly any fat etc left in the roasting tin, organic chicken goes alot farther for stir frys,soup,etc i boil te carcass and then give it to our dog as she will not eat dog food (who could blame her) free range is definitly worth the extra money and you know you are not eating aload of drugs etc that they use to make caged chickens bigger alot sooner because all they think of is money not what the public want!!!!!!

  9. Unknown says:

    I also only buy whole free range organic chickens from a butcher, not sure about less fat certainly no water that used to ooze and smell awful in the normal supermarket ones. Far better value in the long run for 2 >> Roasted one day cold the next and maybe risotto or cuury as well …Then turn the carass in to stock Chicken soup for 8 ……….

  10. Judith says:

    Unless you\’ve ever had to exist with very little money & I mean where literally every penny counts, it\’s easy to take the moral high ground. I don\’t think anyone really wants to see animals kept in unsatifactory conditions, however, we still live in a Democracy & everyone is entitled to make their own choices for whatever reasons. In my experience, peoples morals are only as deep as their pockets allow them to be & I don\’t think this will improve at the moment, however unsatisfactory the situation. I find Hugh rather naive although his intentions are clearly genuine & he obviously has more money in his pocket than many others these days. Tesco would do well to stop being such a bully, it\’s not doing itself any favours in the long term. I hope they continue to offer both cheap chicken & free range, the sales of these products will speak for themselves.

  11. kamila says:

    I am a foreign student and the budget im on does not normally exceed £15 per week for food. I never buy other than organic chicken and I do eat plenty of vegetables, beans and pulses to make my meals complete. I find when i cook everything from scratch -and i do study and work FULL TIME – if done with a bit of thought not only makes a good meal last good couple of days but often i find i eat better than some of my housemates who live on their parents\’ support.Judging from my personal experience it\’s simply either laziness and/or the overwhelming attitude of people in this country where they seem to think they just need to be supported and given almost everything they \’deserve\’ by the state, gods, whoever they think responsible. Perhaps once they change that claimant attitude, to their huge surprise they might discover life could be much better. And tastier;)

  12. bfvmslyr says:

    I don\’t get it, if there\’s an RSPCA standard surely all birds should be kept to this standard!!!!! If that was the case Tesco etc would have no choice but to buy those birds and farmers would no longer produce "standard" birds. The farmer would be happy to get a better price, the consumer would feel better knowing that the birds have been kept to that standard. And Tesco would just have to lump it!!

  13. lynnell says:

    no programme will make me change my way of eating. cost comes into it of sainsburys are not selling caged eggs. i thought supermarkets were helping out the people on a low everything there is good and bad, we as a nation should be left to what we want to buy.

  14. kim says:

    I went food shopping last night and nothing on these chickens tell me what life they have lead. You know when you pick up eggs if its free range or not.

  15. Sam says:

    I was absolutely appalled at the way Tesco ignored Hughs\’ request for a meeting and also about their attitude to the images they portrayed on their labels. How the marketing woman could sit there and say she disagreed with Hugh that an image of a farmer in a field could suggest to people that the birds were free range was ridiculous. I have made the decision to boycott Tesco for the forseeable future, Asda is a very good alternative.

  16. RED says:

    Come on people this program implies that Tesco are alone in this matter but in truth any large retail outfit are the same they get what they can cheap as they can. Ok if its the budget line you want its going to be low quality without any doubts!Hugh clearly has more cash in his pocket to be able to make a choice with products, someone on income support (~£50-60 per week) has notTo infer Tesco is different to the other big players Asda, Sainsbury etc is misleading and misguiding the publicLets be clear also where do the supermarkets get their clothes from? Yes some sweatshop with 10 year olds earning around 1p a day or somethingHugh get off your soapbox and get a real day job perhaps then you\’ll be in a position to judge the general public\’s shopping requirements as a normal consumer not some flag waving I know better pratSorry to rant but it gets up my noseAsda a good alternative my A£$% if you can afford it go to the local butchers and other local shops then perhaps we\’ll have local shops to use in 20 years time

  17. liz says:

    I agree, people who are on lower incomes can ill afford to pay for "happy"chicken (as it\’s known in our family)Indeed, with recession and the likelihood of less disposable income for many people, animal welfare is likely to be a lower priority. Our family prefer not to eat battery hens, not simply for their welfare but because we believe eating flesh from stressed animals cannot be good for us so we now eat less meat and more fish and veg. It\’s about priorities really

  18. Colin says:

    I\’m all for cheaper food and frankly cannot taste the difference between \’factory\’ food and \’organic\’ food. I might go as far as saying that \’organic\’ and \’free-range\’ are marketing strategies to charge higher prices, and those saying that they will only buy such products are being a little pretentious. I applaud Tesco for offering the £2.50 chicken – I buy one every other week…!!!!! I agree that Tesco management should have had the good sense to go on t=recors and say that they are only providing what some of their customers want – good value…..!!!! Long may that be the case….!!

  19. Kenneth says:

    In an ideal World it would be great to be able to go out and buy free range or stress free chickens, but as a couple struggling to get by on pension credits chicken along with mince meat are about the only 2 types of meat we can afford at the moment, its fine people saying its only a few coppers more those few coppers make all the difference when you have to make money stretch we cant remember when last we had a steak let alone a decent steak. If people like Hugh keep going on like this soon chicken will be out of our reach. I would love to eat free range chicken, organic vegetables & fruit but to get them is way beyond our budget, but who gives a damn so long as we dont have battery farming people can go hungry we might eat unhealthy and it might knock some years off our lives but at least we are eating and are alive.

  20. Jennifer says:

    Jenny I was really annoyed that our local Tesco has stopped the hot roast free range chickens.We don\’t have a lot of money, but we would rather eat quality and forego eating out and takeways.It was the only meat I ever purchased from Tesco,much prefer the local butcher.I think they were ill advised not to talk to Hugh.

  21. Alan says:

    I do not earn a great deal of money but I would never dream of eating battery farm chickens. We do not need meat to live so I would prefer not to eat meat rather than eat an animal which has had an unhappy life. Also cheap chicken has a really poor flavour especially when they pump it full of water. I\’d much rather go for a vegetarian option or have fish or beef. Also if you\’re willing to actually cook something the you can do this a lot cheaper than preprepared foods.

  22. Gary says:

    Firsty i would like to say a big thank you to Hugh, My eyes were opened last year with his great show. I am disabled so I am on a low income but I wont eat eggs if they are from caged birds and I wont eat the rediclously cheap chickens. I see every day that people choose what to spend their money on, and thats right. Freedom food is not much dearer, not like free range or organic. I just believe thats wrong for any one to keep or breed any animal in such bad conditions.

  23. Peter says:

    Hi, my wife and I always buy freerange birds humanly raised. Properly used the price is no dearer than Tescos. We have lunch on Sunday, supper on Monday, sandwiches on Tuesday and ten the carcase for stock. Not bad for about £6. The same with eggs, freerange aggs taste so much better and are better or you pls by going to a local fam shop they can be cheaper than supermarket battery eggs. Shop around and do your bit foryour pocket nd animal husbandry. Peter

  24. Jo says:

    I\’m have a low income and an extremely tight budget, however I choose to eat less chicken and less meat in general in order to keep the food bill as low as possible. I buy locally produced organic fruit, veg and dairy produce as far as I can and the family\’s diet is actually pretty good – basically we can\’t afford to eat junk! The junk food is what costs and with a slow cooker & some imagination (plus a few recipe books) it is possible to eat extremely well on a low budget.My family\’s health & wellbeing is important to me and a massive part of that is making sure that we eat well & eat good food.I rrespective of the cheapness of some chicken (and other meat), I can\’t bring myself to buy it knowing that the animal\’s been reared in less than ideal conditions and that the meat itself will then be full of cortisol (stressed animal =stress hormone filled meat) besides the antibiotics, hormones etc. etc.But I guess it\’s all down to choice and whether you\’re aware of what you\’re actually putting into your body.

  25. Leon says:

    My wife and I have just been shopping here in Spain, We did\’nt see hugh programmme but we were looking at the differnce in the price of a free range Chicken and a normal one, A 2kg Free Range was €7.00 and the normal one was €5.00 So why is there such a price differance in the UK? PROFIT!!!!!!!GREED!!!!!!.

  26. HEATHER says:

    We have to question what type of chicken is used in frozen and fresh ready meals and cold meats? Tesco have to be prepared to use free-range in all their products otherwise we go back to square one.When I was a child chicken was a special meal at the weekend now it\’s an everyday meal. Perhaps we should be prepared to make it so again and pay just that bit extra for free-range. After all it tastes so much better and we have played our part in allowing an animal to live normally and not caged all it\’s life. Heather

  27. Clare says:

    We have chickens in our garden that isn\’t huge at all but they are free range and live a happy life. The eggs are tasty and fresh, we know where they have come from and just how fresh they are. I only buy free range meat and feel that if you are willing to eat it you have a responsibility to make sure that the meat you are eating had a healthy and stress free life whilst it was an animal. If a photo was shown of many dogs housed together in a small pen standing in their own mess there would be a national outcry and the owners would be fined and banned from keeping animals…what makes chickens any different?

  28. Gary says:

    Well done I so agree with that last statement, it seems that some people will let animals suffer just so they can save a few quid. It is companies like Tesco that should be leading the way, they do in every other way thats if it dont cost them money and there is a good profit. I would like to go back a few years before they ruled the shoppers.

  29. ....... says:

    I\’m glad tesco and the other supermarkets have the sense to realise that their consumers do want the caged chickens as well as the free range. Not everyone can afford to pay the extra for free range and more importantly a lot of people dont want to!! If the consumers in general didnt want caged chickens then why would they buy them??? Theres no getting away from that any good retailer does their best to offer what their customers want.

  30. Roy says:

    If All birds were raised to the rspca freedom standard and no chicken had to endure that awful life, people would eat a bit less of meat in general and, would be maybe! a bit more healthy, cos most of them that were interviewed could do with putting a bit less in their rather bulkish bodies anyway,me may see this as a bit cruel to say this but the government latest health push say\’s this anyway . I know it\’s only a chicken but ,there\’s no need to be so exploitative. is there?

  31. K says:

    If people can\’t afford to pay for free range eggs or better quality meat then they should start looking at their other expenses in their life and reduce those – ie cigarettes, alcohol and all the other junk that these supermarkets sell. Tescos is a disgrace to continue selling caged hen eggs… there is no excuse. They offer many value products for the consumer on a different budget but shouldn\’t stoop so low when it comes to animal welfare. They have the biggest UK supermarket share and can make a difference and end suffering to lots of animals but they choose profit over quality of life. I never buy anything containing meat or eggs from tesco because its on the cheap. They are carving up our high streets and pressurising farmers to hand over two items for the price of one, making them suffer. These animals are giving their lives up / their freedom for us – the least we can do is give them a pleasant life whilst they have one. I only shop in the better quality supermarkets for meat – yes its expensive so i\’ve cut down on the meat I buy.

  32. mick says:

    good on you hugh its about time tesco were shown up for the bulling firm that they are,they think they are bigger than the customers that shop in there stores,about time people voted with there feet and shopped elswhere\’also had to laugh at the squirming p.a. that tesco supplied for hughs interview,she was such a good puppet I could not see the strings

  33. Stock says:

    Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall should mind his own business, but then he wouldn’t earn those extra column inches or TV time would he. Do you honestly believe he really gives two hoots. He should keep from abusing his famous position and keep his comments to himself.I’m glad he lost the AGM battle. Tesco nor anyone else should bow to pressure from this hypocritical bunch of TV celebs. Are you listening Mr Oliver?Talking of hypocrites, most of the posts below smack of it too. It’s ok to eat it if it’s had a nice life is it, if you’re that bothered shouldn’t you be giving meat eating up altogether?

  34. Alan says:

    I think if everyone got on the band wagon then the cost of a free range chicken would come down. The more the public buy the less expensive they get.I have no real "warm and fluffy" feelings towards chickens, but I do not feel good about the conditions that the chickens live in.. it has made me move to Free range chicken.Tesco have these values that they use when it suits them… but then again who doesn\’t do this?I think a real area for free range should be KFC! shit they must really play a very big part in the purchase of chicken. Offering a free range option to a KFC would be somthing that should be looked at.You guys that say that this is not important… lets say that I hope that we dont all come back as chickens.. as our next life may be screwed up because the careless action we take now. I\’m not some kind of Wakko but no one can say what happens after we take our last breath as a human.. lets just jope for your sakes we dont crack out of an egg, and have a shitty old indoor barn, with no sun light and a very sad 46 days before our necks are cut.

  35. Ken says:

    We buy free range eggs and humanely raised chickens and will continue to do so but not from Tesco. I would have respected the management if they had fielded a senior manager who said , "Look Mr. Wittingstall, we are in this business to make money and sell a range of products to cater for the needs of the entire public according to what they can afford. If it is legal and there is a profit in it, we will flog it. Now go back to your cottage and jump in your river!" But no, the bosses were running scared and sent out that former B.B.C. "World Business Reports" presenter, Dharshina David and now spokeswoman for Tesco plc to charm him off his perch. It didn\’t work. Hang your head in shame, Dharshina, and get a proper job. Perhaps next week Tesco will put a £100 million pound bid in for Jeremy Paxman to defend the production methods for their sage and onion stuffing.I won\’t set foot in a Tesco store again until it lives up to its claims and sources its chicken from humane environments. I don\’t suppose they will care about losing my custom but "every little helps"!

  36. piper says:

    Wow – thanks for all your comments. I think you\’re absolutely right to say that it isn\’t a Tesco-centric issue – but a supermarket wide issue, not to mention all the cheap chicken that goes into ready meals, takeaways etc. Would love to see how Jeremy Paxman would defend them!

  37. Kerri says:

    Did anyone see the Despatches programme where two families both trying to save money because of the credit crunch had the same food budget for a month? One family had to live on Value ranges from the big supermarkets for a month and one had to source food from stores other than supermarkets. Both found it a struggle in different ways, some stores didn\’t source what the family wanted in their value range, while the family shopping outside of supermarkets found it required a little more planning to purchase what they needed from different places. Two things stuck out though;a) The family using the local butchers found their meat (incl chicken breasts) actaully worked out at much better value than supermarketsb) the family shopping locally found they wasted much less food – the admitted that by the end of the week there was just a pint of milk in the fridge and were amazed at how much food they would normally throw away.Now, I\’m not disputing for one minute that there are many people who have strict budgets to stick to with food shops but with a bit of canny planning it would be intersting to see how these budgets streatch by purchasing some value ranges like veg etc (who cares if a carrot has nobbles on) and sourced meat from local butchers who can tell us where/how food is souced and also do offers, or deals – esp if meat is near it\’s sell by date.

  38. rachael says:

    Due to the credit crunch our construction business has taken a bit of a knock and until things improve my husband and i have become rather frugal. We have 3 young children and we have always tried to eat healthily, although i must admit we arebig chicken eaters as it\’s meant to better for you than red meat and i didn\’t care where it came from! After watching Hugh\’s Documentary i must admit i have not been to tesco\’s since or any other supermarket for that matter, instead i have got in my car and driven an extra 2 miles to our local farmers market. I have been buying all my food shopping from there such as fruit, veg, eggs, dairy and meat, and i have ordered half a pig for next week that i\’m going to half again with my grandmother. My fridge has never been so empty i normally end up throwing half of what i have bought away! My hubby is pleased as he often complained of the waste. I thank Hugh & Jamie Oliver for opening my eyes to the wonderful food on offer (And yes it does taste better!!!)

  39. Gary says:

    We all know the causing suffering to any animal is wrong, so why dont the goverment step in and bring into force freedom foods policy. This would then put the costs down as all aminals would be treated the same way.

  40. Caryn says:

    HiIve only just found this site and have ben reading through the comments etc.Just wondering if in all the arguements about money and the price of food etc at the moment if anyone has stopped and thought about where the farmer lies in all this???!Being a dairy farmer myself and although from Northern Ireland our \’experience\’ is slightly differnet to thant of the mainland UK, being that we get far less money for our produce than our mainland counterparts. Currently we are recieving between 16 and 17 pence per litre of milk from the dairies, which is being pasteurised, packaged and sold on through supermarkets at over 80pence per litre- does this make sense? especiallly when it is costing us over 20pence to produce 1 litre of milk, therefore for every litre of milk we produce we can be losing at least 4 pence.The same principle applies in all other sectors of agriculture at the moment eg. beef, lamb, poultry, porkMay I also comment that of the 80pence for a litre of milk in the supermarket the processors ie dairies get very little it is all supermarket profit!Personally I try not to shop in supermarkets at all but buy from local shops such as fuit&veg shop, butchers and local spar shop, if I do have to go to the supermarket (usually once every 3-4months) it will be for dried foods etc and I still try to buy as local as possible.Another thing I will point out before I finish my mini rant is that consumers should be aware of packaging of products as they may think they are buying UK produce because it has the little red tractor logo or a Union Jack on it but if they read the ingredients list on occasions the product eg. meat in a ready meal etc may be from South America or eastern Europe, but the meal has been manufacutred in UK and therefore can be classed as UK produce! (hopefully this will be changing soon)And one last point- I feel that the Government should be responsible for pointing out these facts to the general public as in my eyes there still seems to be the idea within the public that farmers are rich and its our fault food prices are so high when in actual fact the majority of farmers are operating in negative equity and the supermarkets are pushing up food prices!The future depends on farmers- no farmers-no food!Thanks and sorry!!

  41. Pingback: # 15 (2014) Can You Ever Really Trust A Food Brand? | From The Hen Coop

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