Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Marks and Spencer Chicken - They Respond Once More

Why is there Sugar in my Chicken (Part 1)
Sugar in my Chicken Part 2: Marks and Spencer Respond
Marks and Spencer Chicken - They Respond Once More
Marks and Spencer Chicken - the Final Word (Part 4)

UK retailer Marks and Spencer have replied to my most recent questions about their sugar and salt-adulterated roast chicken.

In the original post, Why is there Sugar in my Chicken, I published my correspondence with M&S customer services, in which I tried to establish why both salt and sugar had been added to the roast chicken I bought from their chiller cabinet. Their clumsy, copy-and-paste style responses did not address my central questions, which were a) Why can't you let me add my own salt and b) Why do you have to add sugar?

When I published the post I included a new, public letter, in which I spelled out these questions once again. I also emailed Sir Stuart Rose, chairman and CEO of Marks and Spencer, to let him know about my concerns.

As if by magic, I received an email from 'The Chairman's Office' which I posted in Sugar in my Chicken Part 2: Marks and Spencer Respond.

Now, at least, the sugar mystery was solved. Apparently amounts too small to affect the taste are used so that during cooking it caramelises. Customers have told M&S they want to see chicken with the ' typical golden colouring'. Typical, one might ask, of what? Of roast chicken, they might reply. So if it's typical of roast chicken, why does the chicken you are roasting not take on the typical roast chicken appearance on its own? I must have been stunned into inaction by the absurd circularity of this rationale, because I decided to let this one drop.

I focused instead on the reasons why I was being given no choice about whether to have salt on my chicken. The Chairman's Office, like Customer Services before them, had failed to address the salt-choice question, instead pointing out their efforts to reduce salt levels and the fact that independent panels of tasters had established the levels of salt they added.

So at the end of that post, I published a second open letter, asking, once again - why can't I just add my own salt? I also outlined some commercial benefits this might have. You can see the letter here.

So now, after a considerably longer wait, I have received this response from the chairman's office:

Our Food Technologist for this area has advised me that yours is the first question of this nature raised with her or her colleagues in the poultry department. It would therefore appear that at present there isn’t sufficient demand for a self seasoned chicken.

As mentioned in my previous email, sugar is functional to colour and salt (at low levels) adds flavour. Therefore, at this time, we don’t have any plans to change this set up and will continue to season the products in this manner.

However, we do understand that as times change and more focus is placed on additives and seasonings, demand may change and the Technologist will therefore be keeping a close eye on this for similar reports and feedback and any changes to the market.

I hope that the above detail will help to clarify this matter for you and to bring a sense of resolution to this issue for you.

I do wonder about the term 'self-seasoned chicken'. Would it be overly literal of me to picture the chicken feverishly shaking a salt cellar above it's head on the way into the oven?

Joking aside, I am perplexed by the casual way in which M&S have concluded that there is no demand for self-seasoned chicken. After trumpeting in their first letter that the levels of salt are determined by independent taste panels, the Chairman's Office now tells us that when it comes to determining whether there is demand for a version of the chicken with no salt at all, they rely on an assessment of the Poultry Department mailbag. Considering their stated commitment to lowering salt and making it easier for customers to lead healthier lives, this is an oddly loose approach to what would appear to be a no-brainer for achieving those goals.

I do like that last sentence though. Either Mr Rogers is extremely earnest and genuinely wants to see me achieve closure or he's slyly injecting sarcasm into his closing remarks to imply that I may be a little unhinged and in need of help for my 'issues'.

Here is my response:

Dear Mr Rogers,

Many thanks for your latest response. I do feel as though I am nearing closure, but there is one outstanding issue I must raise.

You have highlighted the commitment of M&S to reducing salt levels and helping customers to lead healthier lives. Yet offering a version of the chicken with no salt at all would be a no-brainer if these objectives were genuinely top-of-mind. The fact that M&S appear to be waiting for the poultry department to get wind of any such demand rather than actively seeking customer opinion about it calls into question this commitment. Clearly you are not strangers to rigour, given your use of independent taste panels, so I am especially confused.

My question is simply this: how will your technologist be keeping an eye on the market? Do you have any plans to proactively research customer demand for self-seasoned chicken as part of your commitment to helping customers lead healthier lives, or should I conduct the research myself and ask those in favour to contact the poultry department?

Yours Sincerely,

See Also:
Why is there Sugar in my Chicken (Part 1)
Sugar in my Chicken Part 2: Marks and Spencer Respond

Marks and Spencer Chicken - the Final Word (Part 4)


Asclepius said...

Hillarious stuff. This should be compulsory reading for the food industry. It would be an excellent basis for either a book or radio/TV program.

You can almost hear them crying "Make it stop!"

Such is the fate of someone trapped in a prison of their own design.

Anonymous said...

The comment of the chicken salting himself was too much. It sent some of my glass of wine right out my nose. Good form as always Methuselah!

Anonymous said...

This is the first time I've read your blog but I'm thinking I'll be back. Loving your writing style Methuselah, and your approach already seems to resound with mine. Not to mention the already-mentioned image of the chicken in its earnest quest to prepare it's flesh for our enjoyment!
PS-I'd be happy to join an un-seasoned M&S chicken petition if you get one up and running!

Methuselah said...

SOG - thanks - in his latest reply (which I will post later in the week) Mr Rogers is careful to use a different term to describe the pre-seasoned chicken :-)

Kat - thanks for stopping by. Petitioning is an interesting idea I had not considered and something that's much easier to do online that via the traditional means. Would certainly be a coup if we managed to get a new product on the shelves!

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