Reports in the tabloid media suggest that Asda has reverted to selling strawberries in “pounds”. So what has really happened?
The Sun got the story first on Friday, 27 May, and ran it as follows.
ASDA is going back to pounds and ounces on fruit and veg for the first time in 16 YEARS.
From tomorrow shoppers can snap up a 1lb punnet of strawberries after customers asked for the return of imperial measures. Under EU laws, that would be 453.39 grams.
Asda said seven in ten shoppers still get confused by metric weights.
Buyer Andy Jackson said: “We have a steady stream of people asking us to put imperial measurements back on packs. We have taken a common-sense approach.”
The EU rules came into force in 1995. Sunderland greengrocer Steven Thoburn was hailed as a metric martyr for his long campaign to continue selling bananas by the pound.
Asda will get round EU regulations by displaying metric measures next to the old imperial ones. A spokeswoman said it may extend pounds and ounces to other fruit and veg if the strawberry trial is successful.
Strawberries sold by the pound in EU snub
ASDA is selling punnets of strawberries in pounds and ounces for the first time in 16 years from today.
The supermarket has become the first major UK retailer to ignore a 1995 EU directive ordering shopkeepers to sell fruit and vegetables in metric grams and kilos or face the threat of prosecution.
Warwick Cairns, of the British Weights and Measures Association, said: “This a victory for common sense.” Asda said if the trial with strawberries was successful, imperial measures could be displayed on other goods.
It has got round the EU law by displaying metric measures in small lettering alongside the imperial.
Asda strawberry buyer Andy Jackson said: “Customers had been badgering us to sell our fruit in pounds and ounces.”
Daily Express columnist and former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe said: “I still ask for things in imperial measurements.”
So what (if anything) has actually happened?
The above reports are so garbled and inaccurate that it is difficult to know where to start first. The legal background (UK law – not EU) is as follows:
- Shops can package goods in any size they like (apart from wine and spirits). However, the package must be labelled with the contents in metric units, with the option of a “supplementary indication” in other units. Any supplementary indication must not be more prominent than the legal, metric indication.
- If goods are sold by weight, the “unit price” per kilogram or 100 g must be displayed – either on the package or on an adjacent shelf label.
- There are a number of exemptions, such as “countable produce” and open containers (relevant to genuine punnets of strawberries found in small shops and markets). In these cases, the “unit price” need not be displayed.
A visit to my local ASDA revealed that they are complying fully with the law. Strawberries are currently on sale in 454 g sealed packets (labelled 454 g/ 1lb e), and the nearby shelf label gives the price per kilogram ( £4.41/kg) (see pictures).
All that seems to have happened is that ASDA has reduced the size of its packages from 500 g to 454 g. Whether they have also reduced the price per package by a corresponding 9% (or whether this wheeze conceals a hidden price increase) – is not stated.
A trawl through the internet revealed that Sainsbury and Ocado (and possibly other shops) also sell strawberries in 454 g or 450 g packages.
- ASDA are acting perfectly legally and have not “ignored an EU Directive” or “got round EU law”. In any case it is UK law.
- ASDA have a brilliant publicity department.
- Tabloid journalists are gullible and prefer to reprint press releases or recycle each others’ inaccurate stories rather than check the facts.
- This is a non-event
- Always check the “unit price” (the small print on the shelf label) before you buy.
- The Government should help shoppers by publicising and explaining the benefits of “unit prices”.
- Beware of fruit sold in open punnets. Unless the trader is prepared to weigh the contents and quote the unit price (per kilogram), you don’t know whether you are being ripped off.