Heinz soup range under attack from farmers' markets and MPs

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Heinz, the global food company, has incurred the wrath of local food producers by launching a range of mass-produced soups called Farmers' Market.

The national organisation representing many of the country's 500 farmers' markets, where local producers sell hams, cheeses and other farm goods direct to the public, say the use of the term is a blatant commercial exploitation of an artisans' movement. MPs are also annoyed by the use of the term and 27 have signed a Commons motion condemning Heinz.

Heinz says the soups are made with ingredients grown on British farms. The company, which has sales of more than £4bn a year, appears to have every right to use the term legally because it is not copyrighted or registered.

Ten years after farmers' markets were launched as a way of allowing people access to local food products without the "middlemen" – supermarkets – they have become an established part of British life, attracting about 20 million visits a year.

This summer Heinz announced it was investing £3.5m in a new range of tinned and fresh soups intended to capitalise on consumers' move towards more adventurous and authentic products. Farmers' Market comes in five canned varieties and four chilled ones such as country vegetable and herb.

Announcing the soups in August, Matthew Cullum, Heinz marketing manager said as an "iconic, trusted brand", Heinz could launch a soup which shared "the characteristics of a farmers' market" and combined wholesome ingredients.

Rodney Whitworth, a cheese maker at Thames Valley farmers' market, spotted the soups in a Tesco last month and tipped off the National Farmers' Retail and Markets Association, which has called for consumers to boycott the range.

Gareth Jones, the association's managing agent, said the association had asked Trading Standards and the Food Standards Authority to rule whether the term farmers' market warranted the same legal protection afforded to terms such as "home-made, "fresh" and "farmhouse".

He complained that Heinz was abusing a term associated with food produced within a specified number of miles of a market, typically 30, and served by stallholders involved in the production of that food.

"What Heinz has done is straightforward, commercial exploitation," he said. "If we don't look at this one carefully, then we will find 'farmers' market' jams, eggs and sausages. Farmers' market ... could be used so broadly there will be no value left in it."

David Drew, the MP for Stroud, has tabled a Commons early day motion after receiving a complaint from his local farmers' market. It condemns Heinz on the grounds that it is not sourcing its material for the soups through farmers' markets, and the soups may not meet the stringent standards for farmers' markets.

Heinz did not respond to The Independent's request for a comment. But a spokesman told the Talking Retail website, which broke the story, that it was being honest with the public. "As we say on the label, [Farmers' Market soups] are made with ingredients inspired by farmers' markets and made here in the UK," Heinz said. "Consumers are clear about what they are buying from Heinz."