Britain The horse-meat scandal
And the winner is
What horse-shy consumers are eating instead
On the face of it, local butchers and vegetarianism have little in common. But—upholding the principle that every crisis helps someone—both have been buoyed by the recent discovery, in Britain and elsewhere, of horse meat in dishes supposedly made of beef.
A poll by ComRes, a market-research agency, showed that 7% of respondents had stopped eating meat altogether as a result of the equine scandal. Another survey by Consumer Intelligence, a research firm, found that 6% knew someone who had become vegetarian in reaction to the reports. Holland and Barrett, a health-food chain, reported increased sales in its soya and tofu lines in early February. A meat-free Sunday roast was particularly popular, with sales up by 50%, while vegetarian meatballs had jumped by 30%.
But other consumers are buying better meat, rather than giving it up. The National Federation of Meat and Food Traders reports a 15% increase in sales at independent butchers—which often specify the source of their meat, and butcher it on site. Sales of beef burgers and mince have leapt 30%. “Health scares are always good for us,” says Brindon Addy, owner of a shop inYorkshireand chairman of the Q Guild, an organisation of 120 local butchers.
The other thing that veggies and artisan butchers have in common is their rarity. The Vegetarian Society estimates that only 2% of Britons are stringent non-meat-eaters (a figure that is set to quadruple if the recent trend proves lasting). For their part, independent butchers are increasingly scarce on the high street: their numbers have fallen by 57% since 1990, to just over 6,000 nationwide. But whether the boost to either will endure after the horse furore recedes is doubtful. Recalling his customers’ attitudes after the “mad cow disease” outbreak 17 years ago, Mr Addy gloomily observes that, “after three months, they slope back to supermarkets.”