That is the view of Freedom Food, the RSPCA’s welfare scheme, which signalled a major step-change when restaurant chain McDonald’s announced its shift to using 100% Freedom Food-certified pork last week.
“This sends out a clear message that price isn’t necessarily a barrier to sourcing higher welfare food, which is particularly important during a recession,” Rebecca Lenik, spokesperson for Freedom Food, told FoodManufacture.co.uk. “We have every confidence that more restaurants and retailers will now be encouraged to follow suit.
“Discounters such as Aldi and Lidl have come on board with Freedom Food products over the last couple of years. Both Aldi and Lidl stock Freedom Food eggs. Aldi also stock a Freedom Food-labelled salmon fishcake and stocked Freedom Food turkey for the first time last Christmas, while Lidl has stocked Freedom Food turkey for the last two Christmases.”
‘Tough year for meat’
McDonald’s announcement came as Mintel’s newly published British Lifestyles report predicted a tough year for meat sales, saying “concerns surrounding meat products are likely to be stronger in 2013”.
Consumers were increasingly demanding “honesty and transparency from the food industry - especially in light of the horsemeat scandal”.
But Lenik said the shift to Freedom Food marked a longer-term trend rather than a knee-jerk reaction to horsemeat, with only a slight increase in interest from retailers and food manufacturers over the last two months, compared with a 200% rise in Freedom Food pork products over the past three years.
McDonald’s pledge to become the first foodservice chain to use 100% Freedom Food pork across its range in the UK makes it a major player in animal welfare-accredited meat. It is Britain’s second biggest buyer of Freedom Food pork products.
Its shift to Freedom Food pork has been in the planning for two years, meaning it pre-dated the horsemeat scandal that blighted the UK food industry earlier this year, a spokesperson for McDonald’s told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
“In terms of horsemeat, we actually haven’t seen any change in consumer behaviour as we were completely clear of that scandal,” she said. “It was indicative some time ago that [animal welfare] was important to customers and that it would resonate with people.”
A Populus poll cited by McDonald’s, covering six years from 2007 until April 1 2013, indicated that nearly three quarters (73%) of respondents said they preferred to buy food that was produced from farms with high standards of animal welfare in place. Animal welfare standards and traceability were ranked alongside price as the top factors behind their food purchases.
“Customers were the catalyst but the supply chain also had to be viable,” she said. “We’ve chosen to move to Freedom Food pork because the market is there in the UK [to supply] it. We need 10,000 tonnes a year, which is obviously a lot of pork. More than a third of farmers in the UK now produce to Freedom Food standard. But with beef, fewer than 1% of farmers in the UK produce to Freedom Food standard and fewer than 5% for chicken.”
Freedom Food now accounts for nearly a third of all British-farmed pigs. The number of pigs it covers rose by nearly 1M from 2009 to 2012, leading to 420 products now featuring the logo on supermarket shelves.
Meanwhile, the Food Manufacture group is staging a free one-hour webinar at 11am on May 16 on the lessons to be learned from the horsemeat crisis. Book your free place here.