What’s happened to Sainsbury’s mince? Vac-pack beef mince complaints explained - can you get a refund?

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The UK’s second biggest supermarket chain has come under fire for the appearance and mouthfeel of its beef mince after changing its plastic packaging

Sainsbury’s own-brand mince has been described as “unappetising” and “disgusting” after a packaging change altered the appearance and texture of the meat.

The supermarket’s entire beef mince range has had its packaging changed in a bid to make it more environmentally friendly. But some customers have expressed their disgust at the results on social media.

It comes after foodies expressed similar levels of distaste at Subway’s limited edition Creme Egg sandwich. American Chef Anthony Calabro’s decision to turn UK food favourites inside out on TikTok has also attracted the ire of some food connoisseurs.

While there is no question of Sainsbury’s having done anything wrong, the news comes at a delicate time for the fresh meat sector. Earlier in 2023, it was revealed meat labelled as British in a major supermarket had actually been sourced from other countries by its supplier. This same supplier has also been accused of selling rotten meat, with the revelations threatening to dent trust in UK fresh produce.

So, why exactly are people upset about Sainsbury’s mince - and what are your consumer rights if you’re unhappy with a product? Here’s everything you need to know.

Why are people complaining about Sainsbury’s mince?

The uproar over Sainsbury’s beef mince kicked off after the BBC reported that customers were unhappy with its texture and appearance.

The supermarket used to sell it in a plastic tray wrapped up in film. As part of an effort to reduce the amount of plastic in its packaging, it moved to vacuum packs in February 2023 - a move it claimed was an industry first. The retailer said changing the packaging on its beef mince alone would save 450 tonnes of plastic a year.

However, consumers have found that the packaging change has not only altered the appearance of the product’s contents, but has also made it harder to cook. Shoppers have said the mince now resembles “mush”.

Vicki Cole, an unhappy customer from Huddersfield, was quoted by the BBC as saying: “They’ve sucked all the air out and squashed it so it plopped out of the packet and into the frying pan in a big rectangular clump.

“As I started breaking it up with the wooden spatula it was staying in big balls that were cooking on the outside but not the inside. I get that we need to use less plastic. But unless they find an alternative that’s going to work they’re going to lose customers because I shan’t be buying it from there. They need to listen to the feedback.”

Ms Cole said her cooking ordeal with the mince lasted for 40 minutes, and resulted in a tougher and overly chewy mouthfeel. Her comments have been echoed by shoppers on social media.

One user said the mince was an “affront to my homemade spaghetti bolognese”. Another said: “Sainsbury’s should address these complaints instead of guilt-tripping people with an eco-friendly spin.” Addressing the supermarket directly, one upset shopper wrote: “I want mince, not compacted mince that takes hours to separate. Glad to know it is not just me.”

Richard Crampton, director of fresh food at Sainsbury’s, said: “We know customers expect us to reduce plastic packaging and we are committed to making bold changes for our customers and the environment. This small change makes a big difference, more than halving the plastic used in our beef mince range and also reducing food waste. We are always listening to feedback and can see lots of our customers are already getting used to the change.”

What are your consumer rights?

If you’ve bought Sainsbury’s mince and you’re unhappy with it, you may be able to get a refund. Vicki Cole, who was quoted by the BBC, accepted the retailer’s offer of a refund in the form of Nectar points.

But the supermarket says on its website that it won’t give out refunds for chilled products unless they are “faulty”. Under the Consumer Rights Act, shoppers have a legal right to a refund for products that are found to be faulty, so long as they are returned within 30 days of being purchased.

In this instance, it is unlikely Sainsbury’s will ask you to return your cooked mince. But to prove it is faulty, it is best to have some form of photographic evidence of your cooking experience to show them that the product has not met the standards you expected of it.

Given the negative response the supermarket has been receiving about its mince, it may not ask for any photos. But it is likely to request a picture of your receipt. Cash refunds tend to take seven to 10 working days to clear, Sainsbury’s says. The time it takes for a Nectar points refund to appear is less clear.

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