Sainsbury’s today (31 July) launched an advertising assault against Tesco after failing to convince the UK’s advertising watchdog its rival’s price comparison scheme was unfair.

As just-food reported on Monday, the Advertising Standards Authority this morning confirmed it had dismissed Sainsbury’s complaints over Tesco’s Price Promise initiative, which compares its prices with its three main rivals – including on own-label goods.

In its ruling, the ASA said the “basis” of Tesco’s comparisons was “clear” and did not breach regulations.

Sainsbury’s had argued it was unfair for Tesco to compare prices with its private-label lines. Tesco, which had compared prices online since 2011, fully rolled out the Price Promise scheme in stores across the country in March, becoming the latest of the major UK grocers to introduce a national price comparison programme. Sainsbury’s has run its scheme, Brand Match, for over 18 months. The initiative compares the prices of branded products on sale at Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda.

Tesco’s Price Promise prompted Justin King, Sainsbury’s chief executive, to claim comparing prices of its own-label lines with “products that are not as good and not as greater provenance is not a fair comparison”.

In a bid to emphasise what it sees as the difference between the two retailers’ own-label lines, Sainsbury’s has started a press campaign with the tagline “same price, different values”, which compares the grocers’ private-label ham and bananas.

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“Now that most of the big supermarkets claim to be matching prices, you might be forgiven for thinking there’s no real difference between them,” the ad reads.

“But take the two loose bananas above. One’s from Sainsbury’s. It’s Fairtrade – which means a fair deal for the producers, irrespective of market forces. The other’s from Tesco. It isn’t. They cost exactly the same. But that’s where the similarity ends.”

The ASA said Tesco had sought to identify if “non-price elements” would affect a consumer’s purchase and excluded products from the comparison if the factor was “significant and likely to affect a customer’s decision”.

The regulator said Sainsbury’s was concerned own label and fresh food could not be compared because of a difference in quality. However, the ASA said the small print of Tesco’s ads said some products would be excluded and the retailer had not compared some lines for that reason.

The watchdog said Tesco had met stipulations in the UK’s advertising code that advertisers should only compare goods that met the “same need”.

It said: “We considered the ‘same need’ test had been met under the code given that food such as meat, eggs or fish were interchangeable and were intended for the same purpose. While we acknowledged there would be differences in animal welfare and country of origin for the ingredients, we were satisfied that Tesco had taken those elements into account when identifying and matching products and had compared on the basis of them meeting the same need.”

Sainsbury’s also asserted a separate Tesco ad published in March that sought to promote changes to how it sourced products “recognised customer interest in non-pricing, ethical type considerations”, the ASA said. The watchdog said it believed the consumers would not see them as part of the same campaign.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Sainsbury’s commercial director Mike Coupe claimed there was “a basic contradiction” between Tesco’s statements on ethical sourcing and food provenance and its Price Promise scheme.

“They have recently begun an attempt at recasting their ethical image and pushing fresh food credentials in a high-profile marketing campaign which encourages us to ‘love every mouthful’. But there’s a basic contradiction between this advertising and the way they’re operating their Price Promise,” Coupe said. “The arguments Tesco have used to defend their position include the suggestion that customers don’t actually care all that much about the provenance of their food or the ethical aspects of food production. Tesco recently said it wants to ‘make what matters better, together’. Customers might be forgiven for thinking it could start with a bit more openness in its Price Promise, making clear that its starting point is that ethical sourcing and provenance are not ‘key’ to customers.”