Ready meal firm fights to keep jobs after horsemeat

By Lorraine Mullaney

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Ready meals, Food, Tv dinner

Sales of beef-based ready meals have suffered from the scandal
Sales of beef-based ready meals have suffered from the scandal
A beef ready meal manufacturer is fighting to preserve the 750 jobs at its Somerset site, as sales fall in the wake of the horsemeat scandal.

Oscar Mayer supplies chilled ready meals to Sainsbury, which has seen reduced sales of beef-based ready meals as the negative publicity around the horsemeat scandal has hit consumer confidence.

A spokeswoman for Sainsbury told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Although none of our products have been implicated in the horsemeat issue, naturally there’s been a degree of uncertainty about processed beef and some ready meals. We’ve seen customers buying more chicken and fish, and more fresh products generally, but cooking from scratch is a trend we’ve been seeing for some time.”

A spokesman for Oscar Mayer told Chard and Ilminster News​: “The adverse publicity has led to a decline in consumers buying mince-based ready meals, which is a high percentage of our business.

Impact on production efficiency

“With lower volumes, the site has seen an immediate impact on production efficiency, an increase in waste and in energy and water usage.”

The company has minimised the use of temporary workers and staff have been using holidays where possible to help.

The horsemeat scandal has also hit the sales of other key industry players, such as 2 Sisters Food Group​.

Recent research by Mintel indicated that consumers were “substantially” ​more aware of the importance of traceability​ issues since the horsemeat scandal hit our headlines.

Mintel’s director of innovation & insight, David Jago, told FoodManufacture.co.uk that consumers’ reaction to the scandal was a “blip​” in the sense that the numbers would die down but they “wouldn’t fall back to the levels seen prior to the scandal”​.

‘Unit sales are now up’

Morrisons said its ready meal sales were already recovering from the hit they had taken from the scandal. A spokesman for the supermarket told FoodManufacture.co.uk:“On ready meals, after seeing an initial dip, our unit sales are now up. We’re pleased we are growing in those areas where perception has been most impacted by horsemeat – traditional British and Italian ready meals are ahead of last year.”

Waitrose said the horsemeat scandal had had no impact on its ready meal sales, while Tesco refused to comment.

Other industry players have blamed the media for demonising the food industry in its reporting of the scandal.

Brian Young of the British Frozen Food Federation told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Yes, the food industry has to stand up and be counted but the reporting hasn’t been balanced – where is the investigative journalism? Where is the break in the system? Who are the criminals? These are debates that need to be had.”

Young said that 99% of the tests had been negative and that detecting trace levels of horsemeat “should have been a non-story”​.  

There is no suggestion that Oscar Mayer is in any way implicated in the horsemeat scandal.

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