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Horsegate good for business: ready meal boss

By Laurence Gibbons+

20-Sep-2013

Shoppers were prepared to pay extra for a slice of something nice after the horsemeat crisis, said Charlie Bigham
Shoppers were prepared to pay extra for a slice of something nice after the horsemeat crisis, said Charlie Bigham

The horsemeat crisis was good for business because it made shoppers consider the provenance of their food more than ever before, says posh ready meal entrepreneur Charlie Bigham.

Despite some short-term negative effects, the scandal had led more shoppers to choose premium brands, he told FoodManufacture.co.uk.

“The horsegate saga was good for our business and businesses like ours,” said Bigham. “Some of the shocking stuff that came out around horsegate had a short-term negative impact. But it made people think, quite rightly, about where their food comes from and what is the true price of really cheap food.”

The food manufacturer reported a 72% growth in sales over the past year, which Bigham attributed to a growing consumer awareness of the firm’s products.

Building that trust

Bigham said that there was a trend in the ready meal market towards consumers being prepared to pay more for a product they felt they could trust. Building that trust depended upon explaining the provenance of food products to shoppers and the long-term, close-working relationships established with suppliers, he added.

“People are happy to pay a little bit more, a modest reasonable amount more, to get something much better.”

Bigham also claimed that despite the widespread global coverage commanded by the horsemeat scandal, it affected a very narrow range of businesses types.

“We have to remember that it was absolutely shocking what went on and the level of deceit. But the scale of the problem was focused in quite a narrow band of product,” said Bigham. “It tended to be at the 99p end of the market.”

‘99p end of the market’

But he did acknowledge that the reputation of the whole food industry was tarnished by the scandal, which was unfair because the vast majority of businesses had done nothing wrong, he claimed.

“I think the industry across the UK took a tough battering considering 99% of people continue to do a very good job.”

Market research firm Neilsen estimated ready meal sales for the 12 weeks to mid-August were down by 1.7% in the chilled ready meals category, compared with the same period of the previous year.

Sales of Italian ready meals were down by 7% over the same period.

The horsemeat scandal first rocked the industry in January when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland revealed its tests in the Republic of Ireland had found horse and pig DNA in Tesco value beef burgers.

The news led Tesco to with drawing 10M burgers from sale and sparked a crisis that snared major food retailers and manufacturers across Europe.

So far, police investing the scandal have made at least two arrests but no one has been prosecuted.

Our photogallery charting the milestones of the crisis is available here .

Meanwhile, watch out next week for our exclusive video interview with Bigham, in which he reveals his top three tips for establishing a successful food business.

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