The Co-op is to reduce the amount of nitrites used in its own-label British bacon range by 60%, in what it described as a first for major UK retailers.
Nitrites, a type of preservative used to cure bacon, will be reduced by this level across 24 fresh, British Co-op lines – and in all its ranges, including its premium tier. This includes back and streaky bacon, medallions and bacon chops as well as lardons.
The retailer said this would come at no additional cost to consumers. The reduced nitrite bacon will be launched in stores with 11 core lines this month, followed by 13 premium lines later the year.
The move is a response to consumer concerns over the link, set out in a World Health Organisation-sponsored study in 2015, between the consumption of nitrite-cured processed meats and cancer, particularly bowel cancer.
The Co-op explained that without the use of nitrites to cure bacon, it would simply be classified as salty pork. Nitrites are required for preservation and to produce the typical characteristics of flavour, taste and colour of bacon, it said.
Breige Donaghy, director of delicious food at Co-op, said: “As a responsible retailer, we look for ways to make real change to help our members and customers to make even better choices when shopping in our stores.
“We’ve listened to what our shoppers want and followed guidance from leading experts in the industry to address the concerns around the amount of nitrites that are required to create cured meats, such as bacon.
“By working closely with our supplier, Tulip, we’ve been able to reduce the amount of nitrites by 60% without compromising preservation and still delivering a great quality product. We will continue to listen to our customers and stay committed to making the highest quality products across Co-op’s total own brand ranges.”
Zoe Bruce, customer director at Tulip, said: “Putting the customer first, as ever, Co-op will be the only UK major retailer to offer a lower nitrite range across its entire own brand bacon category, rather than selling a niche ‘nitrite-free’ product which is not accessible to all and sold at a much higher premium.”
She stressed that removing nitrites completely would not produce the quality of bacon customers are used to. “With this in mind, we’ve worked with Co-op to reduce nitrites in its bacon products to a level where the typical characteristics of bacon are still maintained. There is no impact to preservation, texture or appearance and most importantly it still tastes great,” she added.
Bacon remains a top performing category for the retailer, which sells tens of millions packets a year.
In July 2018, Co-op announced that all of its own-brand fresh pork, bacon, sausage, gammon and ham will be sourced from 100% outdoor-bred pigs on RSPCA Assured farms.
In 2017 it invested £1 billion in British agriculture, sourcing home-grown meat and fresh produce. The convenience retailer also switched its own-brand fresh and frozen meat to 100% British.