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Tesco boss 'deeply concerned' by ITV News/Guardian chicken supplier investigation

  • Video report by ITV News Business Editor Joel Hills

Tesco announced half year results today. Profits were up, sales up, the dividend to shareholders reinstated.

This was a good day for the company. "The turnaround is on track" sang the chief executive. And why not? Tesco's got its mojo back.

But Dave Lewis was also faced less welcome questions about how much he knew about what was going on in the factories of one of his biggest suppliers.

Lewis told me he was "deeply concerned" by the ITV News/Guardian investigation, published last Thursday, which raised serious concerns about food safety and hygiene standards at the 2 Sisters chicken processing plant in West Bromwich.

That being the case, why did it take Tesco until Sunday evening to decide to suspend order from the factory pending an investigation? Marks and Spencer made the same call on Friday morning. Aldi, Lidl and Sainsbury's made the call before Tesco.

"We took the allegation but then we needed to verify it, with all due respect. And that's what we did", Lewis explained.

Is Tesco's hesitation simply proof that M&S has higher standards when out comes to food safety?

"I would absolutely not agree with that and the fact that we use the same factory and we use the same supplier demonstrates that".

Our decision was to launch an investigation. We went with the Food Standards Agency.

We take the allegation but then we need to verify it, with all due respect, and that's what we did.

– Dave Lewis, Tesco chief executive

The ITV News/Guardian investigation spotted a serious of potentially serious breaches of regulations at the 2 Sisters factory that Tesco's own inspections missed but Lewis stands by the integrity of those audits.

He believes the hygiene issues are isolated to the site and have been contained. Tesco continues to source chicken from other 2 Sisters factories.

"We've investigated and audited all the other sites that we take chicken from as a precaution, based on what it is you have raised. So we are confident that all of chicken we are taking is absolutely to the right standard", said Lewis.

Our undercover reporter filmed 2 Sisters staff using drumstick which had been packaged for Lidl to top up the Willow Farms "exclusively for Tesco" production line.

"That is not the behaviour we want," says Lewis.

Credit: ITV News/the Guardian

The Willow Farms brand has been widely mocked by journalists. The farm doesn't really exist and today Lewis explained the "exclusive" claim refers to the name Willow Farm rather than the chicken meat.

He denies the packaging is misleading and says shoppers love Willow Farms because it represents "quality and price".

Tesco is standing by Willow Farms and 2 Sisters.