In a Ruling published by the ASA today, Wednesday 28th April, two complaints by Morrisons Supermarkets against an Iceland ad for its Christmas foods have been not upheld. The original ad, which appeared in print form in early December 2019, featured images of various Christmas foods with price tags attached underneath the headline "NUMBER 1 FOR A LUXURY VALUE CHRISTMAS FEAST", together with a summary showing the basket of goods being cheaper than 'comparable' products bought at leading supermarket chains.

The ad clearly ruffled some feathers, with Morrisons bringing a complaint centred on 2 issues:

1. the price comparison was misleading; and

2. the comparison was not verified.

In their response, Iceland argued that the price comparison was of its luxury range against those of its competitors, with Iceland's range coming from its premium tier of frozen products. Iceland argued that even a frozen product could have premium status compared with a chilled equivalent.  Various characteristics of Iceland's turkey crown supposedly raised it from regular to 'luxury' status. Iceland's birds were British, Red Tractor Assured, and Good Housekeeping Taste Approved for 2019. Morrisons' premium tier product, on the other wing, which came from their 'Best' range, was a free range 'bronze' turkey, a different breed of turkey from Iceland's broad breasted white turkey and valued for its stronger flavour. In addition, the Morrisons' bird was chilled, as opposed to frozen. The Morrison's bird was priced at £25.50 whilst Iceland's flew far lower at £16.

The ad went on to give further detail in the small print, along with a URL web address, about how the products had been compared and the total savings of buying 11 luxury products from Iceland, rather than its competitors.

In the ASA's assessment, they considered that the price comparison was between Iceland's "luxury" top-tier own-brand frozen range and other stores' top-tier own-brand ranges. The ASA acknowledged that there were different characteristics between the Iceland and Morrisons birds, but that "quality" overall was subjective and likely to encompass different things for different people, e.g. taste, preference for fresh vs. frozen; whereas other standards can be objective, e.g. welfare. In my opinion, this is where the ASA erred in making their decision. The two products came from different breeds of bird: bronze vs. white-breasted; and had varying welfare standards: Red Tractor vs. Free Range. This should mean that a direct comparison between the two products cannot be made, irrespective of subjective elements (e.g. taste) or the fact that the product is labelled by the supermarket as coming from a top tier or luxury range. Nevertheless, the ASA gobbled down Iceland's argument.

In their complaint, Morrison's argued that the correct comparison of Iceland's "Luxury Turkey Crown" would have been against the Morrisons Frozen Turkey Breast Crown. The animal welfare standards and breed of bird were the same for the two ranges, but the Morrisons bird was a clucking £1.50 cheaper.

The ASA disregarded this argument, along with Morrisons' argument that the Iceland product was not specifically labelled as "Luxury" (this was in the item description). The ASA felt that consumers would understand the ad to be comparing a range of Christmas food items from Iceland's top-tier own-brand frozen range with items from other supermarkets’ top-tier own brand ranges. Consequently, the ASA concluded that the ad did not breach the CAP code.

The second issue concerned whether the "comparisons with identifiable competitors are verifiable" and provided consumers with sufficient information to allow them to understand the comparison. The ASA were satisfied the URL web address, supplied at the bottom of the ad, provided sufficient detail and basis for the comparison, whilst a further link gave access to a table listing all comparable pricing. 

Although the claim centred around the turkey, as is typical with a Christmas lunch, the ASA paid little attention the other items in the basket. Presumably the ASA is not a fan of mince pies.

So for Iceland, Christmas has come early this year with this decision.