One of the UK’s leading food retailers last week announced that it was starting to produce all its frozen beef from its own dedicated production facility – not only ensuring full traceability but also giving it one of the shortest supply chains in the sector.
The move highlights the impact that the horsemeat scandal has had on the retail sector in the UK – all the more so when you learn that the retailer in question never had horsemeat in its products.
The retailer in question is Waitrose, and in this latest move it has concentrated production of all its fresh and frozen beef at Dovecote Park, a facility set up in 1997 as a dedicated supplier to Waitrose.
Beef comes from the Waitrose / Dovecote Park Beef Producer Group, which comprises more than 1,000 farms throughout the UK.
Producers are farm assured and commit to raising stock to high standards of animal welfare and husbandry, monitored by Dovecote Park’s audit teams.
It sounds like a lot of work to eliminate what, at first sight, was a small supply chain risk. After all, as already mentioned, no horsemeat was found in Waitrose products, and even for those supermarkets that were affected, only small number of products were affected.
Helen Dickinson, director general of the British Retail Consortium told delegates at a recent symposium that less than ½ per cent of products tested for horsemeat in the UK were positive.
However, it’s not just the size of the problem – it’s the impact on customer confidence. Last month, Tesco reported that like for like sales were down one per cent in the first quarter and pointed to a “discernible impact on frozen and chilled convenience food sales due to the customer response to equine DNA being detected in four products”.
Most retailers have put in place improved monitoring systems to ensure the integrity of their meat products. It will be intriguing to see if Waitrose can turn its dedicated facility to competitive advantage.