This week retailers acted to begin to lay to rest the horse meat scandal. Tesco led the way by pledging to source more meat from the UK.
This week retailers acted to begin to lay to rest the horse meat scandal. Tesco led the way by pledging to source more meat from the UK and to make the supply chain more transparent.
The changes follow the release of results last Friday from the extensive testing of beef products from across the UK food sector in which no new products were found to contain horse meat. That gives retailers some headroom to argue the incidents of supply chain failure are less widespread than originally feared.
In all, more than 3,000 tests have been carried out in just four weeks, covering a significant proportion of the processed beef products retailers sell. The pan-industry effort to mobilise on this scale, at this speed, should dispel any doubt over retailers’ ability to respond quickly and effectively to this crisis.
The bare numbers alone, however, will do little to restore consumer confidence, particularly as the story continues to have momentum. New cases have been uncovered - such as the withdrawal of IKEA’s meatballs - and even criminal practices alleged in the deepest reaches of the supply chain.
The short-term effects of the scandal are apparent from the latest numbers from Kantar Worldpanel, which showed sales of frozen burgers plummeted 43% while frozen ready meals declined by 13% in the four weeks to February 17.
The food industry has recovered from crisis before, not least when confronting BSE, and it seems unlikely given this is an adulteration, rather than health issue, that longer term changes to consumption patterns will occur. However, any recovery will come at a cost as more stringent testing procedures are now inevitable.
Today, Tesco chief Philip Clarke admitted that the supply chain has become too complex and he will work to simplify it. Other grocers are bound to follow.
Supply chains have come under enormous pressure since the global economic meltdown as retailers sought to protect margins, and the horse meat scandal has exposed some of the unintended consequences of those decisions.
Furthermore, this story has once more highlighted the readiness in certain quarters, including the Government, to attack retail as the big bad face of British business. It is a potent combination and retail chiefs across the industry, not just food, should be braced for a new level of scrutiny on their own sourcing strategies.