Public confidence in food safety – how can butchers restore faith?


Although the horsemeat scandal was four years ago it seems that the shady practices exposed by the scandal and subsequent investigation are still affecting consumer confidence, according to a report published by NFU Mutual. The Food Fraud Report 2017 included results of a consumer survey, which revealed that 46% of consumers citing the horsemeat scandal as the main reason for a drop in confidence. 72% of consumers were worried about food fraud in the UK, with red meat being the product that was perceived to have the most problems, according to 18% of respondents. 33% of consumers said they were less trusting of packaged foods now than five years ago.

In the immediate aftermath of the horsemeat scandal some butchers experienced an uptick in sales as people decided to buy from a trusted source rather than a supermarket, as large retail stores suffered more than most as it emerged that horsemeat had been used in ready meals and prepared products. It is certainly true that some consumers prefer to buy from a butcher with whom they have an existing relationship, and where they trust the provenance of the produce. However, some people are still intimidated by shopping at a butchers and prefer to take their chances with supermarket products, even though they may be forced into buying more than they need due to set pack sizes.

As butchers it is easy to let these consumer concerns wash over us, as we have the knowledge and connections to know exactly what we are eating. The average customer has no idea what part of the pig their pork chops come from and this lack of confidence can lead people to mistrust anything that looks slightly different to the last one they had. A little education goes a long way and often as you explain something to one customer the others in the queue will be paying keen attention as well.

Traceability is also very important and customers like to know that the meat they are eating has been raised and treated with respect. Proximity is another crucial factor for many consumers who prefer to eat local produce wherever possible. Being able to demonstrate this in store with the display of tags and tracking numbers as well as information about the producers used can really help create confidence among consumers who then feel very comfortable buying your products.

Butchers can hold “meet the supplier” sessions where customers can ask questions of the farmers who raise their food and get to know the people involved in making their dinner from start to finish. Similarly, demonstration sessions help build consumer knowledge and confidence and increase the conscious involvement of the consumer in knowing what they are eating and how best to cook it. Consumers get a lot of inspiration from watching butchers and chefs at work (just look at the popularity of cookery shows) and you can connect directly with your customers by offering demonstrations and information in store.

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