Sainsbury's fares badly in food quality test

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The supermarket chain Sainsbury's, a byword in many middle-class homes for quality food, has come fourth in a survey of standards of produce.

The master chef Jean Conil, president of the Epicurean World Master Chefs' Society, whose members are head chefs from around the world, placed Sainsbury's above Asda, but below Waitrose, Tesco, the market leaders, and Safeway in an investigation which criticised food in all five supermarket chains.

Criticism of Sainsbury's food quality is a further blow to the company after its warning last month that profits were likely to be down pounds 60m on expectation, news that caused its share price to fall 13 per cent.

In particular Mr Conil, who visited five supermarkets near his north London home to examine 100 products, said the Sainsbury's sausages "tasted foul, were tough and rubbery and, frankly, inedible".

The chef said consumers were missing out in the quality of available foodstuffs compared with professional chefs.

"Customers are the poor losers for food value in the big stores," he said. "In many cases the food was inedible and unappetising. The consumer is being held to ransom."

Asda's bakery was singled out for criticism as "atrocious", although none of the in-store bakeries produced really good bread. Mr Conil said: "No one surely can be impressed to buy a giant 4lb hand-moulded loaf, or be tempted to eat a phallic-looking 9in long eclair dripping with too much chocolate icing?"

He said the store's over-salted French baguettes were only good for feeding to the birds.

Mr Conil was unhappy with Tesco's jellied eels, which tasted of paraffin, and the haddocks, which he said were grey with pale gills and sad eyes.

He also thinks supermarkets should give more information about the origin of their foods. "I saw a 20lb goose with no indication of where it was bred. What happened to the Lincolnshire ducks of Cherry Valley, the Pollastra guinea fowls in Suffolk or the grouse of Scotland? Welsh and New Zealand lamb is labelled, but there's no mention of where the beef joints come from," he said and urged stores to tell customers which companies made their own-brand products.

Mr Conil, who founded the society in 1947, suggested that stores might improve the quality of produce by franchising areas to master bakers, butchers, fishmongers and grocers.The Queen might also restore Royal Charters to give protection to craft guilds, and public market places could also be set up to encourage good country food producers.

"Chef buyers would be horrified if their only source of supplies were to be from these giant bean-can and ... pet-food pushers. Chefs are served with excellent products. Housewives are not so fortunate and many have often complained to me that they can never get joints of meat comparable to the ones chefs have," he said.

A spokeswoman for Sainsbury's said this kind of test was subjective, and that in panel testing the company's produce always performed well.