year year

Year in Review

Our molecular biology laboratory has strengthened our ability to verify the authenticity and quality of food.
  • Share
  • Listen


The label is the element that describes all the important information about each product, such as its composition, origin, nutritional data, presence of allergens, expiry date and instructions for use. It is from the label that consumers make many of their food choices. At the heart of it all is the confidence that the product someone is buying fully respects what it claims to be.

Our reputation and that of our brands is closely linked to the quality and food safety of the products we sell. As a food retailer with more than 5,000 stores in three countries, we have a responsibility to ensure the quality and safety of our Private Brand and perishables (fresh and ready-to-eat) products.

A special kind of investment

In 2021 we set up our own DNA laboratory, the first of its kind in Portugal owned by a private distribution company and a rare investment in Europe. The plan was already underway, but it gained new momentum during the pandemic. With the need to find new suppliers and replenish stocks, the challenges in terms of food safety and authenticity have become much more demanding on a global scale. The laboratory was born out of the need to increase the ability to control authenticity and reduce the likelihood of fraud.

The laboratory is located on the outskirts of Lisbon and, in addition to testing products from Pingo Doce and Recheio, it also provides services to Ara and Biedronka. Having your own laboratory also helps to raise suppliers’ awareness to use high-quality ingredients and comply with agreements.

Stamp of approval

Products such as spices, teas and other perishable products of plant origin are always on the radar of the laboratory and the technicians who work there. They are more susceptible to adulteration, not only because of their high commercial value, but also because possible contamination can be difficult to detect.

Sofia Nogueira, the person in charge of the laboratory, explains that “if adulteration is detected, the quality manager is informed that the product does not comply with the information on the label”, and then the quality department evaluates the information and notifies the supplier. Sofia Nogueira distinguishes what is the obvious fraud from what is unintentional cross-contamination, giving the example that “in a factory that produces pork sausages and chicken sausages, there may be residues from a previous production if the machine is not cleaned properly”, which can lead to “traces of pork in chicken sausages.”

CSI Style

Identification of all components is important to protect consumers from buying food containing unspecified traces of ingredients to which they may be allergic. The actual origin of a food product can only be established in the laboratory by performing DNA-based PCR tests. To read the sequences of the genetic material, our laboratory uses NGS – Next-Generation Sequencing, one of the most advanced technologies available nowadays. This technology makes it possible to identify all the ingredients present in a food product.

Analysis consists of three phases. The first is to extract DNA from the inside of cells. In the case of a frozen pizza, for example, the first step is to “take a representative portion of the sample” which, in this case, means removing a generous amount of ham pieces that are on the pizza. The pieces are then mixed to form a homogeneous paste from which a portion is extracted. In the next stage, the DNA is copied millions of times using the PCR technique and then is processed by a specific device that reads the DNA sequences. Comparison with a database makes it possible to identify the various animal and/or plant species present in the food.

Learn more about food fraud

What is food fraud?

  • Adulterate – the deliberate act of replacing, in whole or in part, high-value species with others of less value.
  • Dilution – mixing one substance with another of less value.
  • Concealment – the addition of unspecified substances to enhance the quality of the product.
  • Mislabeling – making false claims about the origin of an ingredient.
  • Counterfeiting.

Food fraud is motivated solely by profit, and there are several news reports that show the importance of monitoring potential threats to public health. In Europe, cooperation between the law enforcement agencies of several countries has made it possible to identify various situations. For example, 27,000 tonnes of food were removed from the shelves of European supermarkets in 2021 and 2022. According to Europol data, spoiled tuna, counterfeit vodka with methanol and counterfeit vitamins were among the seized products. In the case of alcoholic beverages, 15 million fraudulent litres were seized.

What we did

See our 2022 key performance indicators.

How we make a difference

Read about our role as responsible corporate citizens.

Message from the Chairman

Read Pedro Soares dos Santos’ message.

Download Centre

For more detailed information, you can download our Annual Report here in full or by chapter.