Kiti Soininen, head of Mintel’s UK food and drink research team, said that while the impact was confined to a few food categories, its benefits could be much more longer lasting.
“The impact of the scandal was limited to a few product segments,” Soininen told the webinar, sponsored by business law firm DWF. “According to IRI data, frozen red meat products were the hardest hit. Sales in this segment fell by about 15% in value terms and 17% in volume in the 52 weeks to March 2013, when compared with the same period of last year.
"Frozen ready meals saw a limited impact with volume sales falling by 2% in value and volume. But, at this point, it is hard to say how much is due to consumers switching away from these products and which is due to product removals.”
Some meat-free brands reported a boost in sales following the scandal. But IRI data showed that chilled vegetarian products saw only modest growth compared with the period to March 2012 and nil growth in the current year, she said. The frozen segment has seen a stronger performance but again the growth in 2013 has been modest.
In contrast to the short-term negative impact, a longer lasting and more positive legacy could be a renewed focus on UK food, said Soininen. “For me, the silver lining was undoubtedly the growth in interest and the growth in trust in British food at the moment. Those are things the British food industry can certainly look to tap into more effectively.”
Based on Mintel consumer research on perceptions of British and local food conducted last December and repeated in March 2013, British food has lost ground in terms of its image as being well regulated but there has been little impact on its image as safe. In fact, 33% of those surveyed in March 2013 thought British food was higher quality than other foods compared with 31% in December 2012.
More (28%) consumers perceived British food to be authentic and worth a premium in March this year, compared with 24% in December 2012.
Mistrust in food labelling
But to capitalise on that interest Soininen warned the industry must “overcome the widespread confusion and mistrust in food labelling”.
More than two-thirds (68%) of consumers felt it was hard to know when food was really British in March compared with 59% in December 2012. Many consumers appeared to want reassurance that information about food production methods was available but only rarely wanted the information itself.
Last week chilled convenience manufacturer Greencore told FoodManufacture.co.uk there was evidence to suggest the chilled ready meals sales were down 15–20% week-on-week at the height of the crisis but had since recovered to a point 3–4% down on last year.
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