Half-baked, the verdict on Tesco's bread boasts

The loaves of bread lining the shelves might be warm and soft to the touch. But despite appearances, many supermarkets use their "in-store bakeries" merely to warm up bread made in industrial units hundreds of miles away.

Just how much bread is made elsewhere is revealed today in a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) against Tesco. It judged that Britain's biggest supermarket was wrong to suggest its bread was baked from scratch, when most of its stores had done little more than pop near-finished loaves into the oven.

Only 504 of Tesco's 2,362 UK stores baked their bread from scratch – while the overwhelming number of its "in-store bakeries", 1,288, engaged in re-heating, the ASA discovered.

Tesco's discomfort will have been heightened by the fact that the complaint was made by a new campaign demanding "real bread." Part of the Sustain food and farming pressure group, the Real Bread Campaign says most shop-bought loaves are a mix of hidden additives, cheap fats and short fermentation.

They have attacked the performance of "in-store" bakeries which, along with butchery and fishmongery counters, are a way for supermarkets to demonstrate their stores offer all the benefits of a traditional high street under one roof.

Critics claim these areas do not always match the high standards of specialist independent traders.

Supermarket fishmongers slabs, for instance, often sell thawed frozen food that may have been caught 10 days previously, rather than bought that morning at the docks. Meat counters sell foreign beef and pork and produce is often butchered elsewhere, although Morrisons claims it is unique among the "big four" stores in processing 90 per cent of its meat "in-house".

While market stalls generally source regional British vegetables from local wholesale markets, supermarkets truck fresh produce hundreds of miles around the country to central depots, then out to branches.

In an advertising campaign in the national press, Tesco celebrated the freshness of its in-store bread. The headline text read: "Fresh bread. Baked from scratch in our in-store bakery. Using 100 per cent British flour. So every single loaf is genuinely British... Born and bread." The small print stated: "Subject to availability. Selected UK stores."

Tesco told the ASA only a few hundred of its larger stores made their own loaves, while the majority used part-baked or "bake-off" bread made elsewhere. These loaves are chilled or frozen before being re-baked or finished on the premises.

The ASA banned the adverts, ruling: "Because we considered that the ad implied all Tesco stores with a bakery facility baked bread from scratch, which was true of only a limited number of stores, we concluded the ad was likely to mislead."

Iain Loe, spokesman for the Real Bread Campaign, said: "We believe this ruling sends an important message to advertisers: if you plan to hide or distort the facts in an attempt to draw customers away from small, independent bakeries that make an honest living baking honest loaves, the people of Britain won't stand for it."

The campaign claims the six major supermarket chains do not meet its demands, which include no artificial additives and at least four hours of fermentation. It wants supermarkets to list all ingredients on in-store loaves and stop using the terms "freshly baked" and "artisan" for products not made from scratch by qualified staff.

In-store bakeries produce around 17 per cent of British bread. In its report, Are Supermarket Bloomers Pants?, the Real Bread Campaign said in March: "In many cases, what is called an in-store bakery is little more than a tanning salon for baguettes."

The food writer and supermarket critic Joanna Blythman described them as "nothing but bogus retail theatre".