I DIDN’T REALLY want to focus on horses again this month, but after a rather enlightening conference put on by the Food and Environment Research Agency recently and some conversations with those present, I couldn’t help it.
As you’ll see from the report on p12, caterers were criticised once again for their reaction to the crisis, not just staying below the parapet but digging a hole underneath it and climbing in. There was no-one there to defend them.
So, I asked Lord Haskins – who spoke eloquently and controversially, as any experienced ex-food boss might – whether foodservice could actually learn more from the scandal than retail, and whether there was a feeling that the big catering firms had come through it relatively unscathed. (According to Which?, nearly half of consumers blame producers for the appearance of horse DNA in beef products, while 17% blame supermarkets, 13% say it’s the government’s fault and 5% blame themselves. No-one blames caterers).
“People are more choosy about whatthey buy in supermarkets than when they eat in a fish and chip shop,” said Haskins. In light of the “fish fraud” we report on this month (p4), maybe not. Still, he has a point: consumers tend to leave their ethics at the restaurant or canteen door. Dan Crossley is cutting in his viewpoint on p11: “There is very little transparency and accountability in the foodservice industry. It’s [also] an industry that consumers know very little about.”
Do they know more after the horse meat controversy? Do more people know their Sodexos from their Compasses, their 3663s from their Brakes? I doubt it.
In March’s magazine, Sodexo’s Phil Hooper touched upon the company’s “global strategy aimed at building its brand into something people will know, love and choose”. The move from B2B to consumer-facing brand is a brave one, and can leave you exposed to the kind of headlines that Tesco, Findus and the like have been dealing with in recent weeks. But if you, as foodservice companies, are confident in your supply chains and responsible in your business, then why not be accountable for your actions?