“Half of that mince, please”

Two brief anecdotes illustrate the difficulties still being experienced by customers because neither the Government nor “consumer advocates” will try to help them adapt to metric units in the supermarket.

Anecdote 1

A woman in her 60s approaches the fresh meat counter of the supermarket. “Half of that mince, please” she orders.  The male shop assistant lifts the pile of minced beef, divides it roughly in two and weighs half of it on his scales.  It comes to 800 g.  “That’s £4.80” he announces. “Is that alright?”

“What?” the woman exclaims. “I don’t want all that.  I asked for half a pound”.  The assistant glances heavenwards and silently weighs out the mince again.  This time he announces: “227 grams – that’s £1.36.  Is that better?”  Grudgingly, the woman accepts the offer, collects her package and departs muttering darkly, while the assistant exchanges meaningful glances with the next customer.

Anecdote 2

A man in his 70s presents himself at the deli counter and peers at the shopping list that he has been sent out with.  “A quarter of ham, please” he ventures.

The female assistant slices 250 g, shows it to the customer, who nods vaguely and accepts the package, oblivious of the criticism that he will receive when he gets home for buying more than double quantity.

Comment

Anecdotes like these are not a representative sample and prove nothing in themselves.  However they do illustrate the continuing difficulties that some customers experience in their daily shopping.  In these two cases, the customers were both over 60, but – contrary to the Government’s complacent assumption – it is not only older people who have failed to adapt to the UK’s official, legal system of measurement.

The truth is that both customers and traders have been badly let down by successive governments that have introduced metric units while providing no effective help to make the change.  Perhaps even more disappointing is that organisations that purport to defend consumer interests (such as the Consumers’ Association – “Which?”) have also ducked the issue.

It was always implicit in the 1965 decision to “go metric” that eventually retailing would have to fall in line.  However, with the agreement of the European Commission, successive politicians kept postponing the decision – until in 1994 the Conservative Government  amended the Weights and Measures Act to require metric weighing and pricing of “loose goods” with effect from the end of 1999.  This presented the incoming Labour Government in 1997 with the problem of managing the change.

To their discredit, instead of embarking on a programme of public information and education, the Labour Government decided to pretend that the change need not affect consumers.  The relevant Minister advised that customers could continue to order goods in imperial measures, and shopkeepers would have to weigh out the metric equivalent.  Thus, the onus for educating consumers was placed on the retail trade, and it is little wonder that some of them objected to this imposition and refused to co-operate.

Even more contemptible is that, when Trading Standards Officers in Sunderland, Hackney and elsewhere tried to carry out their legal duty to enforce the law, Government Ministers tried to distance themselves from the law that they had supported. Instead they tried to blame the situation on the European Union (who actually were blameless spectators) and thus reinforced the erroneous identification of metrication with “Europe”.  Most recently, the responsible Minister in the last Government went to the limit of his legal powers (and perhaps beyond) by trying to prevent Trading Standards Authorities from enforcing the law.

The result of course is the “very British mess” that UKMA has described elsewhere (see this link).

As far as retailing is concerned, the problems include:

  • Supermarkets generally price and label primarily in metric units (sometimes with the imperial equivalent), whereas many small shops and market traders price and label in imperial only.  In this way they prevent customers from comparing prices and value for money as between supermarkets and street markets (it is not true, as is sometimes claimed, that they cater for separate groups of consumers – there is considerable overlap).
  • As was illustrated in the anecdotes above, many customers do not realise how much they are buying and are vulnerable to the many scams employed by retailers.
  • “Unit pricing” (the indication of the price per kilogram, litre or metre, usually in the small print at the bottom of shelf labels) is little used or understood – even though it is a vital method of comparing value for money, especially since prescribed package sizes were abolished last year.
  • Goods are permitted to be described and advertised in either metric or imperial units.  This means that, in order to function effectively, customers have to be fluent with both systems – whereas many people struggle with one or the other – or with both.
  • Similarly, product manuals or instructions may be in either metric or imperial units.  Some people are therefore unable to understand the instructions and may operate machinery incorrectly.
  • It is difficult to monitor fuel consumption (in either L/100km or “mpg”) since petrol and diesel are sold in litres, but distances are signed (and odometers are calibrated) in miles.

Meanwhile that great defender of consumer interests, the Consumers’ Association (“Which?”), sits on its hands, claiming that there is little or no consumer detriment.

So what can be done to retrieve the situation?

  • Firstly, and above all, we need a loud and clear statement from the Government that the UK is a metric country, and that the primary (and soon the only) system of weights and measures is the metric system.  (This has of course been said before sotto voce, for example by Tony Blair in 2004 in a letter to Lord Howe, and indeed in the 1999 review of progress. However, the message has clearly not got through, and many people – perhaps the majority – are unaware of it).  It needs a clear statement from the highest level – i.e. the Prime Minister – preferably to Parliament in “prime time” – so that the media and the general public are fully aware.
  • Secondly, the Government must grasp the painful nettle that is road signs.  As long as these remain imperial, people will not believe or accept that the UK is a metric country.  Although this may seem a long way from the old lady and her “half of mince”, it is in fact crucial, since the use of miles, yards, feet and inches on road signs spills over into other fields – such as weather forecasts, the purchase of timber, the sizing of clothes, describing the weight of new-born babies and general media usage.  The obstinate refusal of the Department for Transport to set a date for sign conversion – or even to admit that it will happen one day – is now the biggest single obstacle to completing metrication in the UK.
  • Thirdly, the Government should require all publicly-financed organisations (including Government Departments and Agencies, local Councils, the BBC, private contractors on public projects, and charities in receipt of grants) to work toward becoming exclusively metric.  In theory, this is already the case (see paragraphs 7 and 8 of this Guidance), but in practice the advice is widely ignored or unknown.
  • Fourthly, the late lamented Metrication Board (abolished in 1980) needs to be re-invented – but this time with real powers of enforcement.
  • Fifthly, The other measures in our draft “Weights and Measures (Completion of Metrication) Bill” should be considered for implementation.
  • Finally, the Government needs to explain the reasons behind these actions and provide proper help to those people who have genuine difficulty in making the change.

Opponents of metrication will of course complain that such an approach would be draconian, illiberal and unpatriotic.  No doubt attempts would again be made to link the issue to “Europe” (even though the EU is now out of the picture).  Many politicians will baulk at the anticipated onslaught from the Daily Mail.  Yet the fact is that the voluntary approach has failed, and if responsible opinion-formers are not prepared to line up behind a set of reasonable proposals such as those described above, then we are condemned to more decades of muddle and confusion such as that experienced by the old lady with her request for “half of mince”.

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24 Responses to “Half of that mince, please”

  1. michael says:

    As a retail manager, I can confirm that these situations do arise frequently.

    Ref: your comments about the BBC, I am currently in correspondence with their Editorial Complaints unit over their use of metric measurements in news broadcasts. In particular the high profile case of a teacher striking a pupil with a 3kg weight in a science class. The weight was embossed with '3 kg' and was reported as such on the BBC local news and BBC new website. Yet on the BBC national news, it was reported as a 7 lb weight. Similarly the dramatic mine rescue coverage in Chile frequently referred to the miners as being trapped 'half a mile underground'. Yet the distance they were trapped was 700m - 100m short of half a mile. Even more infuritating was the knowledge that Chile is a metric nation and their media were expressing these distances in metric measures, as were the BBC Chilean correspondents. Its only when it gets to the BBC TV Centre in London that they insist on dumbing things down.

    I have had a positive response on the basis that they are factually inaccurate in their reporting. I will let you know they final adjudication results

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  2. john b says:

    The old lady's request isn't actually a metric problem, though - it's her ambiguous use of language. If she'd wanted a half-kilo and asked for "half of that mince", she'd still have ended up with 800g and been annoyed.

    Also, "Goods are permitted to be described and advertised in either metric or imperial units" - eh? I'm pretty certain it's compulsory to include the metric unit on everything sold in the UK, and to display the unit price in metric. As long as those remain compulsory, I don't see any problem in also including an imperial price ... [John is presumably referring to packaging, which must indeed carry the metric unit (except for milk in returnable containers). The reference here is to advertising and product description, which may be and often is exclusively imperial, provided that it does not include a "unit price" (i.e. priced per unit of measurement) - Editor]

    I fully agree that road signs should be metricated forthwith. It's a shame Labour didn't do it, as there's approximately a 0% chance that the Tories will.

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  3. Ezra Steinberg says:

    This is an excellent posting and does succinctly describe all of the crucial issues. Let us hope the government (and organizations that purport to advocate on behalf of consumers) will soon "see the light".

    On one point I notice the following in Appendix 1 of the Guidance Note for the Use of Metric Units linked to in this post:

    Appendix 1
    Imperial Units Of Measurement Available For Primary Use After 1 October 1995
    Some imperial units remain available as the primary system of measurement for certain specific uses ... :

    a. Imperial units of measurement to be used without time limit.
    [Paragraphs i - v omitted]
    vi. acre for land registration

    And yet I believe the acre was later dropped as an allowed unit of measure for land registration. If I am correct, how did this change take place? (Perhaps more changes will eventually come.) [Ezra is correct. The acre has been deleted for land registration. However, the National Measurement Office has not bothered to update the Guidance, which now can only be found in National Archives, rather than on the NMO current website - Editor]

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  4. Colin Richardson says:

    Returning to the BBC. On the PM programme last Friday one of their reporters said that he bought a ruler to measure the depth of snow in Northumbria. Of course he reported the result in inches and failed to mention cm. On Five Live news this morning only a measurement in inches was given. I have addressed an e-mail to the PM programme asking for an explanation why. I advised if the BBC is happy to report in an obsolete system of measurement, perhaps they would be prepared to accept my previous cheques in payment of the licence fee. Frankly it high time that the BBC fulfilled its charter to educate instead of patronising its audience and assuming that they do not understand metric. I suspect that that may take some time!

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  5. philh says:

    I don't quite agree with john b that the anecdotes are irrelevent to metrication. Whilst imperial units persist in the minds of some customers, unqualified phrases like "half of" , "quarter of" etc are liable to give rise to misunderstanding.
    Whilst we cannot realistically legislate as to what customers say to shop keepers we can at least create the right environment to encourage and enable them to adapt, just as we did with decimalisation of currency. It wasn't long before shillings and (old) pence dissappeared from daily speech for the overwhelming majority of people, and dual pricing along with it.

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  6. Mark says:

    I have noticed that a lot of pubs, bars, restaurants etc. continue to sell postmix drinks (such as cola, lemonade etc.) in fluid ounces or pints. Now unless I'm wrong, as I understand the law, it is only beer and cider (and only when sold as draught), which could and must be sold in imperial measures. So I would therefore assume, that if is the case, postmix drinks (or indeed any drink which is neither beer nor cider) should be only sold in metric measurements and that by continuing the practice of selling such drinks in imperial measurements the businesses in question are breaking the law. However, if you visit any such establishment, whatever the company, you'll virtually always find them selling these drinks in fluid ounces and this appears to be prevalent up and down the country. I, myself have worked in this industry and customers will regularly request a pint of cola or such. This may well because beer and cider continues to be sold this way, or maybe it's because such businesses continue to offer customers the opportunity to purchase a pint of cola despite the fact, as I believe, that it shouldn't be sold in this way.

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  7. Mike says:

    In response to Mark, I really think its the glass size the pub has been given and they wont spend the money to change it.

    The weather at the moment is annoying too - both BBC and Sky give snowfall in cm, yet if there is a live report then the correspondent only talks in inches.

    Lastly markets are head smackingly daft. The ones I have been round recently have signs advertising the produce in £/lb, but they only have digital metric scales. At no point does the trader weigh it up in pounds, its a purely metric digital scale, yet they still insist on quoting prices in pounds.

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  8. philh says:

    I don't wish to divert this topic on to booze but for the record, beer and cider when sold in open containers, are required by law UK to be dispensed in 1/3, 2/3, 1/2 and multiples of 1/2 pint glasses. Unit prices must be price/pint with price/litre as an option.
    There are no prescribed quantities for non-alcoholic drinks in open containers. Publicans and other sellers can and often do sell soft drinks using descriptive names for the glasses such as large and small and display prices per glass.
    If they advertise a unit price then it has to include metric, i.e. price/litre or price/100 ml etc, with supplementary non-metric unit prices (price/pint or whatever ) being optional.
    As you can see from this the whole regime is a complete and utter mess with no obvious rationale. If traders do infringe the law it could just as easily be due to lack of understanding of it as much as anything.

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  9. Ken Cooper says:

    I'd like to make a few quick comments on the original article.

    "Most recently, the responsible Minister in the last Government went to the limit of his legal powers (and perhaps beyond) by trying to prevent Trading Standards Authorities from enforcing the law."

    Not exactly. A quote/press release from the minister suggested that this might happen as a result of new guidance. When the new guidance came out, it had no practical effect on any individual Trading Standards Department's ability to enforce the law. [According to the BBC report referred to, "The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said Innovations Secretary John Denham would introduce new guidelines within months that would prevent local authorities from taking traders to court." Obviously, as we hinted above, he had no legal power to do so. - Editor]

    "many small shops and market traders price and label in imperial only."

    Not in my experience. I would go as far as to say that there is currently not one shop or market trader pricing or labelling in this way in my Local Authority area. Do UKMA have any current figures and locations to back up this claim? [We believe that Ken Cooper's experience is very unusual, and he is fortunate in his local authority. Perhaps readers would care to comment on whether imperial-only pricing and labelling is widespread in markets in their own areas - Editor.]

    With regard to the sidetrack on booze, I would point out that the (ridiculous) 2/3 pint measure has not as yet been introduced

    http://www.nmo.bis.gov.uk/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=172

    and that the current official guidance on draught soft drinks states

    "Can soft drinks, such as orange squash, be sold by the pint?

    5.6 Soft drinks cannot be considered to fall within the definition of “draught beer”, however broad a definition is considered, but as they have also been sold by the pint in public houses they may continue to be sold this way as long as a metric equivalent is in the price list or, for example is orally stated with every delivery. Alternatively, soft drinks can be sold without reference to quantity (large or small glass)."

    I will admit, however, that a request for "a pint of soda and lime" in a pub is unlikely to get the reply "here's your 568ml"

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  10. Mary says:

    In response to the Editor’s comment:
    Worcestershire’s Trading Standards Service, has recently been rebranded as ‘Worcestershire Regulatory Services’. On its letterhead it has “Supporting and protecting you”.
    In this local authority’s area there are market traders who display unit prices only in imperial units, [price per pound]. These traders flout regulations.

    Despite submitting numerous reports of non-compliance, it is extremely difficult to try and get the Trading Standards Officers to do their job and fully enforce Weights and Measures legislation.

    Worcestershire’s local authority fails to support and protect those consumers who want to see all market traders display unit prices in metric units, [price per kilogram].

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  11. Ken Cooper says:

    In response to Mary's comment

    If I was Worcestershire TS, I would find it very hard to respond to a vague complaint of this type. [Who said the complaint was "vague"? Mary claimed to have submitted "numerous reports of non-compliance" - Editor]

    1) Where are these traders based and what days do they operate? - Information of this type is more likely result in action than "There was a guy at the market around 3 weeks ago. He had a white van."

    2) Exactly how does she think they flout regulations? Complaints that actually spell out what the complainant thinks is wrong are more likely to be actioned than non-specific allegations.

    3) Are they using metric or imperial scales? Any information about the equipment being used will always aid the investigating officer. More allegations of separate offences (ie equipment and price marking offences) are again more likely to lead to action.

    4) Is there any evidence of overcharging? Every time Colin Hunt has been prosecuted for non-display of metric, he has also been prosecuted for "mistakes" in converting his displayed imperial prices into a price that his metric scale can understand. Do such "mistakes" lead overcharging rather than undercharging?

    5) Has anyone else complained about the shop? The more complaints that a TS Dept receive from individual consumers, the easier it is to show consumer detriment.

    6) Has the complainant asked the shop to serve her in metric? Shopkeepers can hardly claim that "no-one ever asks for metric" if consumers are willing to stand up and say that they have asked for metric prices to be displayed and that they request metric amounts.

    7) Mary claims that Worcestershire TS fail to support and protect their local consumers. Is she willing to expand on this? If I was the complainant, I would be asking for an explanation in writing as to why action has not been taken.

    8) If the explanation says that an enforcement action short of prosecution (ie an oral or written warning) has been taken by TS, and it has not resolved the situation within (say) a further 28 days, there is nothing to stop a further complaint being made.

    9) It must be remembered that TS departments are not supposed to have a blanket non-prosecution policy (see the guidance referred to obliquely in the original article) and that any decision to prosecute must be proportionate. It's a damn sight easier for a TS department to defend a decision to prosecute when they can point to multiple complainants, a refusal by the trader to take advice as the warnings escalate and to actual consumer detriment through overcharging

    10) As a final point, any complaint should target the worst offenders first. Make one complaint against one trader rather than taking the scatter-gun approach of "Here's a list of butchers you should investigate"!

    [Thanks to Ken Cooper for this advice. However, it takes a brave customer to confront a bolshie market trader and ask for the price per kilogram or request that goods be weighed on metric scales. This is why it is so disappointing that TSOs are reluctant to get involved. - Editor]

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  12. Ken Cooper says:

    In response to the two points made by the editor above

    " [Who said the complaint was "vague"? Mary claimed to have submitted "numerous reports of non-compliance" - Editor]"

    I said it was vague. There is absolutely nothing within Mary's post which identifies any trader. I would suggest that this is typical of some complaints that are received by TS. Members of the public make anonymous complaints which consist of no more information than "there's a guy in the High Street that TS should be looking at", then complain when no action is taken. From the information given, how are TS meant to guess which of the dozens of traders in the High Street are being complained against and what law is supposedly being broken?

    I already raised this issue at point 10 above when I suggested that consumers should make highly specific complaints against individual traders rather than numerous general reports of non-compliance.

    "It takes a brave customer to confront a bolshie market trader and ask for the price per kilogram"

    What's to stop a customer asking the market trader for 200 grams or half a kilo of a product? It doesn't have to be done in a confrontational manner.

    If you read the Thoburn judgement, part of the defence was that his customers all made their purchases by reference to imperial and that only TSO's ever asked to purchase products in metric. If UKMA members are not prepared to practice what they preach, how are TSO's expected to convince courts or the government that there is any demand for change?

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  13. Erithacus says:

    I take Ken to be an experienced TSO himself, and I am sure we are all grateful for his advice. However, I think he underestimates the difficulty that ordinary customers have in dealing with market traders. It is easy for a TSO, endowed as he/she is with all the authority of the Council (and potentially the Courts), to advise customers to assert their rights. But put yourself in the position of a shy (probably female) customer trying to buy a kilogram of fruit or vegetables from a vocal, overweight and somewhat intimidating (male) stallholder who uses imperial scales and prices all his goods by the pound (or indeed the bowl). “Sorry, luv, we only do pounds and ounces here. We’re English” is the likely response. It is wrong to expect ordinary customers to expose themselves to the risk of abuse by challenging this behaviour when TSOs (whose duty it is to enforce the law) say they are too busy and it is low priority. Of course, as Ken suggests, TSOs in some areas have succeeded in getting the co-operation of traders. So why can’t they do it everywhere?

    (BTW, in response to Ken’s earlier question, UKMA clearly has no resources to carry out a rigorous survey of the extent of metric compliance in street markets throughout the country. However, perhaps this is something that TSOs themselves could do (obviously in the course of their normal inspections), and maybe their professional institute could collate the results. Then we would have a better idea of the true position. Worth thinking about ?)

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  14. Mark Preston says:

    Often, the 'offenders' are market traders, some of whom operate in local authority markets. Shouldn't a condition of issuing a stall or unit be that they adhere to all relevant pricing and weight and measures legislation ? They clearly have to abide by food safety, health and safety, trading and employment laws so why not these ?

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  15. Michael Glass says:

    If traders are weighing goods in pounds and ounces, then their scales are illegal. A trader who is doing this at an open market is wide open for prosecution. There is nothing to stop a member of the public from photographing and videoing the trader, and handing over the evidence to local authorities. Traders have already been successfully prosecuted for using unregulated scales, so there is ample legal precedent for another successful prosecution.

    Imperial scales are unregulated because they cannot be checked by the relevant authorities as accurate. The difference between 227 g and 225g might seem trifling, but it's almost 1%. If one stall sells bananas at $3 a kilo but the next stall sells the same bananas at $1.40 a pound, the price per kilo is actually slightly better, though most would be none the wiser. So using pounds and ounces is a way of giving the smart operators a way to take advantage of the public. This is something that should be emphasised.

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  16. Alex Bailey says:

    Also responding to Ken, I have myself made a number of similar complaints to Northamptonshire TSO giving specifics... and these complaints have not been anonymous. I was actually gobsmacked on one occasion when I was asked to visit the offending market stalls myself and request the traders addresses so that the TSO could write to them!

    Some might also suggest that we take photographs of offending traders and I have attempted this myself in the past, however this also tends to antagonise traders and often attracts the attention of security staff and police who (erroneously if traders aren't on private land) believe that they can stop people from taking photographs on "anti terrorism" grounds.

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  17. Colin says:

    There is a fruit and vegetable stall in a town market [in Worcestershire] where the trader:
    1. Hides his scale behind a box preventing customers seeing the weight.
    2. Sells by the bowl.
    3. Displays prices only in imperial units.
    The County Council's Regulatory Services have been informed about this.

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  18. Ken Cooper says:

    Erithacus said:
    BTW, in response to Ken’s earlier question, UKMA clearly has no resources to carry out a rigorous survey of the extent of metric compliance in street markets throughout the country. However, perhaps this is something that TSOs themselves could do (obviously in the course of their normal inspections), and maybe their professional institute could collate the results. Then we would have a better idea of the true position. Worth thinking about ?

    Reply: I can’t see this happening. Every TS Department will know roughly how compliant (or non-compliant) the traders in their own area are. I’m sure that my own Local Authority would reply to such a survey, but couldn’t comment about others.
    However, TSO’s are enforcers, not a campaigning pressure group. I would still suggest that it is more UKMA’s place to raise awareness and produce figures.

    Mark Preston said:
    Often, the ‘offenders’ are market traders, some of whom operate in local authority markets. Shouldn’t a condition of issuing a stall or unit be that they adhere to all relevant pricing and weight and measures legislation ? They clearly have to abide by food safety, health and safety, trading and employment laws so why not these ?

    Reply: Such conditions already exist. One of the Metric Martyrs (Peter Collins) appeal was against a condition in his street trading license that he trade in legal units.
    Anyway, it would still be the TSO’s that would be used to enforce the market conditions, in exactly the same way that it is Environmental Health Officers that would enforce food safety laws in the example above.

    Michael Glass said:
    If traders are weighing goods in pounds and ounces, then their scales are illegal.

    Reply: Not necessarily. There are still mechanical scales out there that simultaneously indicate in both systems. If a trader marks a price per kilo and a supplementary imperial equivalent, then responds to a request for “a pound of bananas” by weighing out 455 g (the scale would also read 1 lb), then he commits no offence.

    Michael also said
    A trader who is doing this at an open market is wide open for prosecution. There is nothing to stop a member of the public from photographing and videoing the trader, and handing over the evidence to local authorities. Traders have already been successfully prosecuted for using unregulated scales, so there is ample legal precedent for another successful prosecution.

    Reply: I would not advise this. Videoing or photographing traders is far more likely to put a member of the public in danger than simply asking for “200g of tomatoes, please”

    Michael also said: Imperial scales are unregulated because they cannot be checked by the relevant authorities as accurate. The difference between 227 g and 225g might seem trifling, but it’s almost 1%.

    Reply: I agree with the first part of your statement, but market scales are not as accurate as you assume. On a typical legal electronic metric scale used, with 5g divisions, it is likely that 225g and 227g weights would display identical readings

    Alex Bailey said: Also responding to Ken, I have myself made a number of similar complaints to Northamptonshire TSO giving specifics… and these complaints have not been anonymous. I was actually gobsmacked on one occasion when I was asked to visit the offending market stalls myself and request the traders addresses so that the TSO could write to them!

    Reply: All I can say in response is that my own Local Authority would have visited the trader themselves. I’d like to say a lot more………

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  19. Michduncg says:

    Oh dear - the nightmare scenario. The CoOp and Waitrose are, I have noticed, reintroducing imperial pricing on their deli counters and on loose veg sections in the form of a price per pound alongside the price per kilo on the Shelf Edge Labels. The CoOp have gone one step further and include price per lb on the packaging of meat and cheese. I have complained to both organisations and feel this is a huge retrograde step. Are any other UK members similarly disturbed by this move? And more importantly, what do UKMA plan to do about this?

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  20. Lucas Murray says:

    In reply to Michduncg, I am dismayed to learn that Waitrose have reintroduced imperial pricing at their deli counters and on loose vegetable sections in the form of price per pound on the shelf edge labels.

    As someone who works within the John Lewis Partnership, of which Waitrose is a subsidiary, I can inform you that over the past few months there have been numerous comments made within The Gazette, the in-house magazine of the Partnership, about the use of Imperial units in both Waitrose and John Lewis stores. The most recent letter appeared in November:

    USE OF METRIC
    SIR: A few months ago I wrote a letter about the use of the metric system within the Partnership. While I realise it may be a small issue in our daily lives, as a business we surely must have a consistent approach.
    Last week, Waitrose Chronicle reported on the pumpkin harvest, quoting the sizes of the Munchkin mini-pumpkin as 100g, and the Sumo as 30kg. Waitrose is a metric- driven business, with all recipes given in metric and customers advised to use metric for the most accurate result.
    So why did the Gazette choose to quote the size of the same products in pounds and ounces, as all Waitrose scales are calibrated in kilograms and have been since 1994.
    I look forward to clarification on this matter. Yours, etc

    The Managing Editor replies: Point taken. We will metriculously follow the party line in future...
    Steven Forfar

    Since the above letter was published I have noticed that all weights and measures used within The Gazette have been exclusively metric, bar the use of the mile for some long distances.

    It seems rather odd then that Imperial units would then be re-introduced into Waitrose stores at both deli counters and shelf edge labels. I will be making further enquiries into the reappearance of Imperial units in Waitrose stores.

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  21. David Brown says:

    Not only is the re-introduction of imperial equivalents a retrograde step, it is also a confusion we could do without.

    In my local Sainsburies they label loose vegetables in both units - the shelf labels have a space for the price per pound or whatever. On pre-packed vegetables they also display a price per pound if the pack size is exaclty 1 kg. However, if the pack size is different from 1 kg, then they must display a unit price (£/kg), which the do in the space where the price per pound is displayed on the other products. So you have to realise that the price is sometimes per pound and sometimes per kg, depending on the size of the pack. What a mess! How could any industry in any country think that this is an acceptable way to do business? It makes me ashamed to be British.

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  22. Michduncg says:

    Hi Lucas - I work for John Lewis and wrote the aforementioned letter to the Gazette!

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  23. Erithacus says:

    I had assumed that Michdung's report of imperial units resurfacing in Waitrose was a one-off local error, but I have to report that at the deli counter in Waitrose, Southsea (Portsmouth), salamis and ham etc are now priced in £p/100g, with £p/quarter in very small print beneath. Perversely, on the cheese counter, prices are £p/100g, with £p/kg beneath. (They obviously assume that their customers are unable to multiply or divide by 10). I hope this is not a response to our recent article.

    It is a worrying development since Waitrose has hitherto set quite a good example.

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  24. Paul says:

    I realise this is an old article but the first I have found that addresses some of my complaints.

    I shop mostly at Sainsbury's for various reasons but there are times when I get annoyed at their very poor shelf ticketing showing prices. They can have a number of different kinds of, say a veg, next to each other on the shelf. For example, the loose veg might say 50 pence per kilo. Beside it is the same veg packaged and prepared with a set price and underneath, £2.50 per pack. Next the same veg in their 'better' quality line marked at 80 pence per pound.

    Why? One guess is... to keep the customer in the dark and prevent them from making a calculated choice. That way they are more susceptible to offers and clever ticketing techniques.

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