Horse hysteria is galloping across the nation. Whitbread, in a bid to soothe spooked consumers, has launched a full investigation into its meat supply chain.
The company, which discovered traces of nag in a couple of its pre-prepared meals during its first round of tests on February 14, is now conducting independent batch testing all the way down the supply chain, paying particular attention to any processed meat products. Whitbread has also called for certification from meat suppliers to ensure that no horse meat ends up in the grinder: proof against hoof, if you willl.
'We believe that a wholesale change is required to the way the supply chain is regulated and a tougher regime needs to be put in place,' reads the company statement. 'As a major player within the industry we intend to take an active role and assist the Food Standards Agency in setting the standards in the food supply chain that the UK public expect and deserve.'
Whitbread has resurrected the old 'field to fork' adage to describe its new system of traceability. But the firm will soon find out whether diners at its Beefeater chain buy into the initiative: beef burgers are going back on the menu this week. Given that burger sales have plummeted across the company, and Andy Clarke, Asda CEO, has admitted that sales of fresh veggies have far outpaced sales of meat products over the past fortnight, it may take more than a 'field to fork' promise to get punters chowing down on beef patties again.
Perhaps this calls for a new telly campaign where Lenny Henry orders a burger from the Premier Inn room service menu, stares directly down the camera lens and says in his comforting cadence, 'Mm. Now THAT's beef!'?
Despite all the horsegate revelations, Whitbread's overall business is trotting along nicely. Underlying sales are up 2.7% for the 11 weeks to February 14, down slightly on the 3.3% growth in the previous quarter, but apparently 'blizzards' across the UK have impacted footfall at its restaurants arm.
Over at the caffeinated king of Whitbread's portfolio, Costa, total sales are up 32.2% (5.5% on a like-for-like measure, stripping out the changes in store space). But then, no one expects to find Black Beauty in their espresso, do they?