Tesco – trying hard but must try harder

On Saturday 21 July 2007, I visited a Tesco store in the West Midlands. On many of the fruit and vegetable displays there were signs showing the inkorrect symbol ‘Kg’. (Article contributed by Philip Bladon, author of ‘A Dictionary of International Units’)

It is good that this leading supermarket is showing the way with metric pricing; however it is disappointing that the correct symbol for the kilogram ‘kg’ is not always used.
I have written to Tesco several times in the past about this issue, and have also raised it in the particular store visited.
This is a plea, to whomever is responsible for producing the signs at Tesco, please ensure that  ‘kg’ is always used for the symbol for kilogram. 
I believe Tesco supports ‘Schools & Education’; however when children (and others) see the incorrect unit symbols on displays they pick up wrong information – which may be difficult to put right later.

Philip Bladon http://www.simetricmatters.com

22 thoughts on “Tesco – trying hard but must try harder”

  1. I’m sure there are many reasons for the use of incorrect unit symbols. It could be ignorance, bringing bad imperial practices into metric usage, spite, etc. But let us look at this from a different perspective. I’m sure that all of us would agree that we would rather see Kg, KG, KGR, or whatever combination of error that can be imagined over lb, Lb, LB, etc.

    Yes? No?


  2. Long ago, in the days of secretaries and typing pools, there was often a risk that kWh, kVA and mV in a draft report would come back as KWH, kva or, worse, MV in the final document.
    In 1969, when the construction industry began the metric changeover, my wife and I worked at the head office of a major UK construction company. All staff, admin and technical, were required to attend a short metric course and to take a simple test. My wife still reminds me that she scored higher marks than me. But she seems now to have forgotten much of what she learned about metric in those far off days.
    This illustrates a problem caused by the prolonged metrication process in the UK. A second generation, including junior staff at Tesco, finds itself at the bottom of a learning curve, with little prospect of help from an older generation who may in fact have been there before.


  3. Unfortunately, this is more indicative of poor educational standards than anything else. The same people who write up these labels are going to be the same people who use “txt tlk” every time they write something. Even in this technological age I see people (even those who work within the computer industry) who use combinations of “mb” “MB” “mB” and “Mb”.

    And lets face it, when those who run the country can’t even use the correct symbols for feet and inches, what hope do we have of getting the metric ones right?


  4. I can back up what Alex says – I regularly see comms specifications of 2 mbps when in fact they should be 2 Mib/s.

    For the benefit of those outside the comms/computer industry, the prefixes “ki”, “Mi”, Gi” represent 1024, 1024×1024, 1024×1024×1024 etc.


  5. It is amazing that this could have happened, especially since the signs were probably next to hundreds of bags of potatoes with ‘kg’s on them.
    I do not really like the kilogram, but even I do not like seeing the incorrect symbol being used.
    The first letter of a symbol (e.g. lb, kg, cm, etc.) should not be capitalised unless the unit was named after someone (e.g. W).


  6. I just checked the Tesco web site.

    One of their specials lists Evian water 6×1.5 ltr.

    They also have Birdseye 100% Beef Quarter Pounders (4 of them) at 454g!

    Still, it’s nice to see all SI compared to what we have in the States.


  7. Mr. Bladen needs to contact the CIA and help them clean up the mess on their web site:

    Taken from another forum:http://gometric.us/jforum/posts/list/92.page

    The CIA Fact Book now has an Appendix G which is a section on weights and measures, mostly interconverting Customary, Imperial, and metric. Not exactly mathematical errors, but some of the style errors could lead to serious misunderstanding.

    See for yourself at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/appendix/appendix-g.html

    My list of issues:

    1) The table entries defining prefixes for area and volume show a serious misunderstanding: prefixes attach to the unit (and are affected by its exponent).

    2) Obsolete prefixes such as myria- and compound prefixes, hectokilo-, etc

    3) While they include some wrong prefixes, they miss yotta-, zetta-, yocto-, and zepto-.

    4) While they cover many obscure units, they fail to distinguish between Survey and International foot. For precise landmeasure, and conversions to 6-7 places, this is a serious omission.

    5) Sometimes they remember to distinguish between US and UK bushels, gallons, quarts, etc. Sometimes they don’t. They also seem to think the UK has different liquid and dry quarts, like the US.

    6) While they have many obscure units, like minims, and exhaustively cover long and short tons, hundredweights, etc, there are no stones.

    7) They include obscure and deprecated metric units such as quintal, steres, which are not SI.

    8. After providing a table of prefixes, they assume we don’t get it, as they mindlessly provide conversion of pints to deciliters, liters, and dekaliters (two of those units are not legal for trade in US)

    There’s probably more, but for spies who updated their website this month, they’re not exactly on top of this newfangled SI.

    Here’s the contact link: https://www.cia.gov/contact-cia/index.html


  8. Just to add an additional note to Tabitha Jones’s post: quite correct that the unit symbol is capitalised if named after someone (W for watt, named after James Watt), but not if it’s just a unit name like m for metre.

    However the prefix defines a multiplier for the unit, and is common across all units (e.g. kg and kW). Some prefixes are lower case, such as k for kilo (x1,000); whilst some are upper case such as M for mega (x1,000,000). The full list can be found in several places on the internet – for example http://www.npl.co.uk/reference/si_prefixes.html

    Clearly these are international symbols, so kg in America is the same as kg in France or Australia or China. (The same cannot be said for other systems of measurement.)


  9. OK, Kg may not be the proper way to write kilogram(s) but at least it’s metric. We need to get thinking metric- in any form- before we worry about small irregular ways of specifying amounts. You often see ‘wrong’ notation in European countries, yet everyone still understands them.


  10. Government departments get it wrong. On the first DEFRA map showing the Foot and Mouth Protection and Surveillance Zones, the inKorrect symbol ‘Km’ appears four times. ( DEFRA Map created on 2007-08-03). See link:

    Click to access declaration-pz-sz-rz-070803.pdf

    I’m pleased to see that the more recent map created on 07 August 2007 does not have ‘Km’ on it . The scale is clearly shown in ‘Kilometres’. See link:

    Click to access declaration-pzszrz0807.pdf

    These maps may have been created by different people.

    Philip Bladon http://www.simetricmatters.com


  11. It may be possible that some assume the kilo symbol is capital because the symbols for mega and greater are. Also, some may assume that all sub-multiple prefixes are minuscule letters and multiple prefixes are capital letters. I wonder why they aren’t, it would make more sense if they were.

    I believe the symbol for deca/deka is da. If it were D, then there would only need to be one letter instead of two for the symbol. Even though deca/deka is a rarely used symbol it still would make sense if D was for deca/deka and d was for deci, just as M is for mega and m is for milli.


  12. Today (17 August) at Sainsbury’s I noticed the label on a box of bananas, it had ’17Kg’. I’m glad that this inKorrect symbol isn’t on the product price display.

    Sainsbury’s used to included ‘Kg’ in its advertisments, at the time the Chief Executive wrote that ‘Kg’ looked better on the page.

    This is another example where children (and others) see the incorrect unit symbol, pick up wrong information – which may be difficult to put right later.

    Philip Bladon http://www.simetricmatters.com


  13. Martin Vlietstra writes “I regularly see comms specifications of 2 mbps when in fact they should be 2 Mib/s.”

    In data communications, a kilobit per second means exactly 1,000 bits per second (not 1,024), so you’re seeing an error where none exists.

    Computer memory is a different matter though – “1GB” is really 1.074GB, and “1GiB” would save any confusion.


  14. 22 March 2008
    Today I visited a Tesco store in Worcestershire. On display were nets of ‘Spanish Mandarins Ortanique’, these were inkorrectly labelled ‘1.5 Kg’.

    I pointed out to a member of staff that there was an error on the label, she quickly spotted the inkorrect symbol.

    Sadly the problem remains, someone at Tesco who is responsible for labelling isn’t aware that the correct symbol is ‘kg’.



  15. Hoover’s Big K. Hoover must also try harder.

    A few years ago I wrote to Hoover’s Head Office in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, pointing out the inkorrect symbol ‘Kg’ on the company’s washing machines.
    Today while visiting two stores (Apollo 2000 and Currys), the new Hoover washing machines on display still had the inkorrect symbol on them.

    In the company’s brochure, it shows specifications with the correct symbol (‘kg’). The problem is one picture shows a machine with: ‘8+5 Kg’, another picture has a machine with: ‘Mega 9kg’.

    (Brochure link: http://www.hoover.co.uk/docs/images/brochures/2007/4660%20HOOVER%202.pdf )

    Perhaps eventually all Hoover’s products will have correct symbols on them.



  16. On the fresh fish counter at Tesco, Redditch, Worcestershire on 25 June 2008:-

    ‘SCOTTISH WHOLE UNDYED KIPPERS’ the label on the counter had the inkorrect symbol ‘Kg’. The label printed out after weighing showed:
    ‘Items or Kg 0.365 kg’ and ‘Price per kg £3.59’ .

    The fishmonger on duty was made aware that the correct symbol is ‘kg’.

    SI Metric-Matters


  17. Obesity’s big K

    Recently the ‘Cross Government Obesity Unit’ produced a document entitled: ‘National Child Measurement Programme Guidance for PCTs: 2008/09’. In this publication it had the inkorrect symbol ‘Kgs’ shown in a Results letter that would be sent out to parents and carers.

    After writing to the Government department responsible (the Dept. of Health), I’m not sure if the Minister (Alan Johnson MP) was made aware of this error. However in the reply from the Customer Service Centre I’ve now been told this error will be corrected.

    How many more government departments are there where employees don’t know correct metric symbols?



  18. 23rd August
    The Tesco staff responsible for labelling goods still haven’t got the message that the correct symbol is ‘kg’, this is despite many complaints made over a period of several years. The complaints have been made within stores and in letters sent direct to Tesco’s Customer Service Centre in Dundee.

    The original blog item was written over a year ago.

    Today, during a visit to Tesco’s main store in Redditch, the price labels for potatoes had ‘KG’, ‘Kg’, and ‘kg’.

    The Tesco Customer Service Centre has been sent another of their Customer Comments slips, which by the way are rather tatty.

    “If employees cannot be relied on to get the metric symbols right, then perhaps they, or their employer, need to consult my book (see http://www.simetricmatters.com) or the style guide(s) produced by various organisations, including UKMA.


  19. 14 November 2008: Reply received from Tesco.

    It fails to address the point of inkorrect symbols like: ‘Kg’.

    It refers to advice from the Trading Law Department about ‘using an authorised abbreviation’ of the correct SI units on the product’s label.

    It says that for shelf edge labels ‘the SI unit abbreviation is also capitalised’ to improve clarity for customers.

    As far as I’m aware the International Standards Organisation (ISO) does not authorise the use of abbreviations for SI units.
    For SI units symbols should be used not abbreviations.

    http://www.simetricmatters.com / Philip Bladon


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: