In May 2011, the supermarket launched a major marketing campaign, including ads created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and based on several meal plans, around the promise it was possible to feed a family of four for £50 per week.
The ASA has taken 11 months to rule on the case, during which time Sainsbury’s moved on to its current 'Live Well For Less' messaging.
An ASA spokesperson attributed the delay mainly to the increased workload from the extension of its remit to handle claims on brands’ own websites in March last year, but also to the fact that the Sainsbury’s case involved a very technical complaint that was later withdrawn.
Its investigation of the supermarket's campaign was sparked by seven complaints about claims made in a TV ad, an insert and a website.
Despite the alacrity with which rival supermarkets often complain about each others’ claims, none of Sainsbury’s competitors took exception to the ads.
In a long ruling, including a substantial defence from Sainsbury's and input from the Department of Health, the ASA decided the ads were misleading on three counts.
It ruled they were misleading to suggest readers could meet all their family’s food needs for a week for £50.
This was because while Sainsbury’s worked on the "responsible" basis that its meal plans would supply at least 75% of calories required, allowing snacks and drinks to make up the remainder without overconsumption, the supermarket crucially did not include snacks and drinks in the £50 allowance.
However, the ASA also ruled the ads were misleading because a significant number of consumers would have to buy additional ingredients to those listed on the meal plans, bringing the total cost above £50.
Sainsbury’s, which has also run "feed your family for a fiver" ads, did not respond to requests for comment on how the ruling would affect its future marketing.
As part of the ruling, the retailer was told to ensure that headline prices for meal plans included any integral store cupboard ingredients, unless it held evidence that most or all customers would already have those ingredients at home.
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