Stark raving mad – why being dishonest cost a brand millions.

Several years ago I came across a really well packaged food brand called Stark Naked, founded by Victoria & Marcus Starke.

The packaging was well designed. The brand was well named and positioned. The copy sharp. A lovely website.  It looked like a professional quality brand I tipped to go to the top.

Stark Naked

There LinkedIn page claimed: Manufacturers of the World’s Best Pesto. The family business farms over 10,000 tons per annum of Fresh herbs within a 30 mile radius, the herbs of harvested within 30min – 1 hour and back to the farm, washed and chopped into the sauce making the freshest English pesto available in Ocado, Waitrose, Sainsburys, Asda, John Lewis Foodhalls.”

For most brands “as seen on TV” adds credibility to their brand, but not if you appear on Fake Britain (BBC, Monday 19th, presenter Matt Allwright).

Their claims of local sourcing and high quality ingredients were somewhat short of accurate. More greedy than good ingredients.

According to the Daily Mail, consumers in the UK are being ripped off to the tune of £7bn by food brands selling fake food – imitation, false claims, up labeling and even containing potentially dangerous chemicals – one person nearly died after eating Vietnamese catfish sold as cod and chips.

Honey, cheese, eggs, organic vegetables and meats, pesto sauce, rice, locally grown vegetables, sauces are not necessarily what they seem.

Ethical and high quality gourmet foods are the main victims as these command higher prices. Where’s there’s cash, there’s a conman.

Honey is imported from China and used to bulk up other types in a scam that has become known as ‘honey- laundering’. In some cases they are using corn syrup. Imported beef from South America being badged as ‘British Beef’.

Keith Owen was jailed after making over £3million from passing off battery cage eggs as free range. There are endless examples of ‘up labeling’ going on.

Of course brands can do a lot of legal things too we may not be aware of, like bulking up with starch – every wondered what was in that apple pie you ate?

However, in an economically tight era, there is a massive growing trade in fake items from fashion to condoms.

Stark Naked was marketing a pesto sauce they claimed was made with extra virgin olive oil and Grana Padano cheese (how it should be made) but was in fact using sunflower oil and Gran Veneziano, a cheaper cheese from Latvia. It suggested the basil was local through its copy, “we love local farmers, they are friendly,” when in fact it came from Israel.

As for being fresh pesto, it turned out most of it was frozen after it was made and kept for up to 6 months.

They had also conned ASDA into buying it as an own label product.

Suffolk Trading Standards took them to court and fined them over £28,000 for 14 counts of making false claims which put an end to Stark Naked.

The irony is, if they had actually stuck to their true claims – ‘the worlds’ best pesto’ – and ethical values they could be sitting on a multi million pound brand. There are many brands out there that are now worth a fortune because they have stuck to an ethical, quality agenda, proving it really does pay to be honest and true to your values.





    Goes to show that brands that invest in honest ethics get rewarded. However, what was the motivation  of the founders to be dishonest?  Was it greed, need, stupidity or was it pressure from the supermarkets, squeezing them dry? Many brands have managed to deliver to supermarkets while maintaining values, take Ella’s Kitchen or Biona for example.