Caerphilly has moved to England: Tesco’s deceitful product labelling

It would be easy to dismiss UK supermarket giant Tesco’s recently reaffirmed policy of labelling all produce originating from England as ‘British’ (while accurately referring to the country of origin of Scottish and Welsh goods as Scotland and Wales respectively) as just another example of the attempt by the British establishment to re-brand England in general as ‘Britain’: denying England’s status as a nation equivalent to Scotland and Wales.

But there’s more to it than that, as I realised yesterday when I noticed that Tesco Caerphilly cheese is also labelled as ‘British’, with a little Union Jack in the top-right corner of the packet. On closer inspection, I read the words “Caerphilly was traditionally made in Wales” and instantly smelled a rat: ‘in other words’, I thought, ‘this Caerphilly isn’t made in Wales; and as it’s labelled “British”, it must have been made in England’. On the label, it also stated that the product came from the Joseph Heler Creamery. When I got home, I looked that company up on the web, and yes, it’s based near Nantwich in Cheshire!

So here’s proof that the ‘British’ label on English produce sold in Tesco is not just an insulting and discriminatory repackaging of England as Britain but is designed to cover up the fact that such produce is made or grown in England. Clearly, Tesco doesn’t want its Welsh customers to be aware that one of its ‘Welsh’ cheeses is actually made in England. Equally, it doesn’t want its English customers to work out that what they might think is a Welsh cheese is made in England.

Presumably, the same hard-nosed, commercial explanation can be extended to the ‘Caerphilly”s neighbours on Tesco’s shelves – the ‘British’ Lancashire, Cheshire, Gloucester and Leicester cheeses: advertising their English origin too blatantly might put some Welsh and Scottish customers off from buying them. What is more, labelling these cheeses as ‘British’ enables Tesco to ‘source’ them from anywhere in the UK: in theory, there’s no reason why cheeses carrying the name of English counties alongside the British flag shouldn’t be made in Wales; or even why either ‘English’ or ‘Welsh’ ones couldn’t be made in Scotland. In both cases, they could still be described on the packets as ‘British’. But Tesco sure as heck wouldn’t get away with labelling a cheese named after a Scottish county (if such a thing existed) as British, let alone with making it anywhere other than Scotland.

Tesco’s labelling of these traditionally Welsh and English cheeses as British ironically strips those cheeses of any authentic British character or meaning. That character comes from the fact that they are made in the Welsh and English places and counties that give them their name; and that they are made to a traditional recipe, preferably using traditional methods and locally produced milk, which give them their typical flavour. The ‘British’ tag as used by Tesco denies that rooted, localised, and proudly Welsh and English (and hence, properly British) character. Moreover, it enables those cheeses to be made in theory anywhere throughout the UK without violating trades-description legislation or EU rules that prevent producers from using names associated with regional products for ‘similar’ products deriving from elsewhere – e.g. you can’t call sparkling wine or Elderflower ‘champagne’, but only the traditionally produced wine from the Champagne region. Tesco’s resort to the British tag, on the other hand, reduces the names ‘Caerphilly’ or ‘Lancashire’ to mere brand names for products that are notionally ‘similar’ to the real Welsh or English articles but in fact can be made anywhere in Britain to a different recipe, using different methods, to arrive at an altogether different, and inferior, product. In other words, the more they use the ‘British’ label in this deceitful way, the more they actually devalue it.

The ultimate extension of this business logic is to source typically ‘British’ cheeses from anywhere, including outside of Britain. One example of this is McLelland’s ‘Seriously Strong’ cheddar. On the packet, it does not say where this product is made, only stating that it is ‘packed in the UK’. What does that mean? The Surrey address of the UK HQ of McLelland’s parent company Lactalis (a French firm) is indicated on the packet, which could lend the impression that the cheese is at least packaged in England – and, true to form, this is not explicitly stated even though no Union Flag is in evidence. However, when I looked up McLelland on the web, their actual cheese-producing operations in the UK are based in Scotland, in keeping with the name. But they make a distinction between the Seriously Strong ‘brand’ (their term) and other cheddars made from ‘Scottish Milk’ that do proudly carry the Scottish flag on the packet. Which leads me to conclude, rightly or wrongly, that Seriously Strong must be made and packaged in McLelland’s Stranraer creamery from relatively inexpensive bulk-imported French or other continental milk; in contrast to their other cheddars that are genuinely Scottish and labelled as such. But of course, they don’t brand Seriously Strong as Scottish for similar reasons to why Tesco doesn’t brand its English or some Welsh cheeses as English or Welsh: that they’re not genuinely or entirely from the places of origin associated with the brands (e.g. Caerphilly, Lancashire or Scotland); and, in theory, they could effectively be regarded as being of foreign origin if all the milk used is imported (which it isn’t, apparently, for the cheeses produced by the Joseph Heler Creamery in Cheshire). McLelland push the boat even further in that they refuse to label their ambiguously part-Scottish and part-continental cheese even as British (albeit that they say it’s packaged in the UK): demonstrating the non-acceptance in Scotland of the ‘British’ re-labelling of Scottish produce, in contrast to the meek compliance with this practice in England and Wales.

I say this because I noticed that Joseph Heler’s own-branded Cheshire, Gloucester and Leicester cheeses are proudly marketed as their ‘Traditional English Cheese Range’; and they even have a ‘Continental Cheese Range’ that sports the English flag on the packet alongside several continental European flags, by virtue of the fact that the range includes an ‘English Gruyere’ cheese: referred to as ‘English’ not only because it is made in Cheshire but also, presumably, because there is now an established English variety of Gruyere – with a distinctive flavour because of the local English ingredients and methods used – distinct from, but related to, Swiss and French Gruyeres.

So what does all of this tell us? The ‘British’ label used by Tesco means that the cheese or other produce in question was probably but not always made in England, although not necessarily from either English or even British ingredients – like the ambiguous McLelland Seriously Strong that conceals both its Scottish manufacture and the (assumed) continental provenance of its milk with the ambiguous ‘packed in the UK’ designation. It also means that there is no guarantee that the products involved are genuine in any meaningful sense: they could be, and are, made in geographical locations throughout the UK (using milk from anywhere) that are far from the areas referred to on the label, which are reduced to the status of mere brands.

In contrast, if you want to make sure that your English, Welsh or Scottish cheese is genuinely from England, Wales and Scotland, you can be pretty sure that anything carrying the Welsh or Scottish flags will genuinely be made in those countries, albeit not necessarily in the traditional way or using traditional ingredients. However, you can’t be sure that seemingly ‘English’ or ‘Welsh’ goods carrying the Union Flag are either English or Welsh. If you want a proper English cheese, you can trust only those items that carry the English flag, where the cheeses in question generally constitute a traditional English variety made in a more traditional way.

In this way, by refusing to purchase Tesco-branded ‘British’ cheeses and seeking out only the genuine English article, you are both resisting the ‘Briticisation’ of England, and ensuring that genuine English producers, methods and cheeses are supported. And ditto for Wales. At the very least, the British badge on its own is far from an indication of authenticity; although you might be lucky to have an indication of the name of the dairy, so that with a bit of investigation, you can at least find out which UK country it was made in and where the milk came from – all of which the British label is designed to conceal.

After all, there’s no such thing as ‘English Caerphilly’ or ‘British Cheddar’. But the fact that there is in Tesco is a lie made in Britain.

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3 Responses

  1. […] great post by David at A national conversation for England on Tesco’s deceitful product […]

  2. Tesco Scottish CHEDDAR? Isn’t Cheddar a traditional ENGLISH cheese? Hmmm…

  3. […] website explicitly states. That is, it’s the brand used for English meat, as the practice of supermarkets such as Tesco – which is the subject of Fearnley-Whittenstall’s programme – is to label anything […]

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