SCOTTISH retailers are reporting mixed responses to the ongoing horsemeat crisis. In Crianlarich, customers are demanding the return of spaghetti Bolognaise and lasagne to the freezer while in Paisley, Costcutter owner Jay Javid is throwing fresh meat in the bin. Veggie burgers and Quorn meals are, however, “flying out the door”.
Brian Craig, owner of Londis in Crianlarich, has not restocked with alternatives to the withdrawn Birds Eye and Findus lines.
“I thought this would all blow over in a couple of weeks and I don’t want to fill the freezer with other stuff people won’t buy. But I’m still getting people looking for their favourite ready meals. If I could get it on the shelves, I could sell it.”
In Paisley, Javid reported customers turning to fresh chicken and vegetarian convenience foods to replace their usual beef. “I usually sell a lot of fresh mince but it’s down to zero. I have had to throw stock in the bin. Fresh beef burgers have died a death.” Frozen meals, he added, are down 20% and customers are “suspicious” of processed chicken products.
Instead, “Birds Eye vegetable quarter pounders have shot up and Quorn meals are flying out the door. People are trying alternatives.” Javid cancelled his usual weekend order for steak and mince and requested extra Quorn mince and burgers to meet demand.
In Dundee, where Ian Wilson runs Nisa Extra, older customers have been asking questions. “They want to know if our products are OK, if they have been tested, if they are linked to the multiples who have been named in the horsemeat scandal.
“It’s the older population who tend to ask. The younger ones do not seem that bothered.”
Wilson has reassured his anxious customers that all the withdrawn products are off the shelves and that Nisa has advised him that they are “happy” with the lines they are supplying.
With a 8000 sq ft supermarket, Wilson has space to stock meat from a local butcher. “This is doing a bit better, although it’s not necessarily running out the door. It’s always a good seller.” He estimated it was up 10% since the end of January.
His customers have also switched from frozen to chilled meals, especially ones that are clearly labelled as British beef. “They seem to have more confidence in these.”
Wilson does plan to restock with Birds Eye products when they get the all clear. He is not so sure about Findus. “With the brand size of Birds Eye, I’m more inclined to keep that. Findus I can live without. I want to see what happens in the long term, if this a general trend from frozen to chilled, if it permanently moves other people over.” He would replace Findus with Birds Eye or Nisa own-brand.
Across Scotmid’s 200 c-stores, however, there has been little chat about horsemeat and no visible changes in customer behaviour. Spokesperson Malcolm Brown put this down to the range available: “We have not had to replace the withdrawn products, we already had alternatives in our freezer.”
He added that there had been no noticeable increase in meat substitutes, or a drop in frozen food sales.
How the crisis unfolded
16 January: Beefburgers containing horse DNA on sale in Tesco, Iceland and Lidl
25 January: Tesco apologises for selling burgers that should have been withdrawn
30 January: Tesco, Asda and the Co-op delist meat supplier Silvercrest
8 February: French supplier alerts Findus to 80-100% horse in “beef” lasagnes. Food Standards Agency (FSA) calls for tests on all processed beef products
15 February: Foodservice chain Whitbread finds horsemeat in its products
19 February: Nestlé finds horse DNA in Spain, Italy and France
25 February: Ikea withdraws meatballs in the UK and 13 other European countries
after horsemeat found in the Czech Republic
26 February: Kantar Worldpanel shows frozen burger sales down 43% and frozen ready meals down 13%
1 March: FSA tests completed with no more positive results