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Some packs of salmon are punching below their weight

Smoked salmon in kitchen scales

I’m not in the habit of weighing my shopping after I buy it, and I’m sure that’s the case for most people. But maybe I should start – if our snapshot sample of supermarket smoked salmon is anything to go by…

Getting 10% off my shopping would normally be something I’d welcome. But I got a reduction of a less desirable kind when I bought a pack of smoked salmon from Tesco that weighed almost 10% less than it said on the pack.

This pack was one of 32 we bought and weighed from Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco when researching the weight of smoked salmon. The majority of packs bought from each supermarket were underweight, with the Tesco pack being the most extreme example.

Almost 80% packs were underweight

I was prompted to go trawling through supermarkets for salmon after a tip-off from Which? member Loz Farmer. He told us that during the past two years he’d bought four packs of Sainsbury’s smoked salmon and found them to be around 10% short when he’d weighed them.

When we bought our own samples, 25 of the 32 – nearly four out of five – weighed less than the amount stated on the packs. The other seven packs weighed more.

The ‘200g’ pack of Tesco Everyday Value Smoked Salmon actually contained 181.5g when we weighed it, meaning it was underweight by just over 9%. We believe this breaks Trading Standards rules.

Where do you draw the line?

Shops have to follow various rules about how much their products are allowed to stray from the weight stated on the pack. The most straightforward one is that no single pack can be underweight by a certain amount. How much depends on how big the pack is – smaller packs are given less margin for error – but for products between 100-200g, like most packs of smoked salmon, it’s 9%, so the Tesco salmon was just outside this margin.

When we took our findings to Tesco, it told us that:

‘Our records show that the weight of the products tested conformed to industry standards. It’s not uncommon for some of the oil in smoked salmon to transfer to the packaging while on the shelf.’

But there were other packs we bought that were also underweight but didn’t fall outside of the margin for error, such as a ‘200g’ pack that actually weighed 189g. I’d be pretty annoyed if I found out I was getting short-changed like that on my shopping – but at the same time, it’s impossible to have everything weigh exactly the same down to a single gram, so I can understand that there’s a need for a margin for error.

Have you bought food that weighs less than it should? Do you think the rules on weights are tough enough?

Comments
Member

It’s impossible accurately to check-weigh packaged food unless you know the weight of the packaging but if the total weight including the packaging is on or under the declared weight of the foodstuff then you know there’s a shortfall. Unfortunately, few stores have scales or weighing machines near the refrigerators where packaged fresh foods are located.

The customer is never going to get more than the declared weight of product so the only balancing factor is the price. The supermarkets would argue that if they always had to match, or very nearly match, the declared weight then the unit price would be higher.

Member

I bought one of the first digital kitchen scales that would measure to the nearest gram and recalibrated them so that they were accurate over a wide range of weights. I weighed all sorts of supermarket products and found that weights were either generous or very little short of the marked weight. That was quite a few years ago.

As John says, the packaging makes it difficult to check the weight of food but I’m tempted to put my scales in the shopping bag next time I go shopping and choose the heaviest pack of smoked salmon marked 200g.

Member

That’s a good idea. I hope you get away with it and let us know the results.

Member

When I get back from holiday I will try this late one evening, when I’m unlikely to attract the attention of staff in Tesco. I have checked a few products at home today and have not found a problem.

Member

I have been busy with my scales and found some variation in weight, though the packaging makes it difficult to be certain about the weight of the contents. At home, where I have been able to check the weight properly, I have found some items that are slightly underweight but not seriously. On average I am getting a little more than I pay for.

Member

I believe supermarkets of a certain size
are required by law to provide weighing
scales for use by their customers and what
is equally as important is such scales
provided must be accurate. Many a time
I’ve found purchased items weighing less
than specified when I take them home
weighing on my own highly accurate
electronic weighing scales.

Generally I avoid retailers that do not provide
such weighing scales for customers’ use.

Member

Hi Argonaut – Brilliant! That’s almost a sonnet in form!

There’s usually a spring balance dial scale in the fruit and veg section but it might not be accurate enough to register on a small product [although for 200g it should be a reasonably good indicator of deficiency]. I find there’s usually a few grams of dirt in the bowl of these scales and I have sometimes had to complain at the lack of cleanliness of this apparatus that is required to be provided for customers’ benfit. The deli and other specialist sections usually have electronic digital weighing machines on the counter that they might let you check something on.

Member

Thank you, John… you’re much too kind.