Horse meat scandal is a threat and opportunity for pub trade

By Rob Willock

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Agriculture, British beer & pub association

Willock: "The horse-meat saga might lead to consumers upgrading their menu choices"
Willock: "The horse-meat saga might lead to consumers upgrading their menu choices"
The temptation to write another leader about the machinations of the tenanted and leased pub sector was strong. Not least because the week started with the publication by the British Beer & Pub Association of version 6 of the industry framework code; and also because we have exclusively revealed the latest results from the him! Tenant Track survey, which shows some general improvements in the relationships between tenants and their pubcos.

However, tenanted and leased pubs make up slightly less than half of the Publican’s Morning Advertiser’s circulation — and we must be careful not to neglect our freehold and managed house readership. No doubt they are following the statutory regulation debate with some interest, while at the same time thinking: “Thank God we’re not caught up in that saga — and can concentrate fully on our retail offer.”

Not that they don’t have their own challenges and concerns. Among those, of course, is the question of how to respond to the news that horse meat has been found in processed beef products — whether the ‘horses d’oeuvre’ or the ‘mane course’ (come on, everyone else has been doing horse gags). But seriously, at once this presents both a threat and an opportunity for British pubs.

The horse-meat saga might lead to consumers upgrading their menu choices. But, equally, it might have other more negative consequences, especially for pubs operating at the value end of the spectrum.

We all love a bargain, value proposition every now and again. But — thanks to this latest food crisis (we seem to have one every 10 years) — consumers will think twice before buying that £1.99 pub burger or £3.99 pub steak until or unless confidence in the meat processing and wholesaling industry is restored. It’s not your fault, but, as usual, someone else’s cock-up has become your problem.

If you rely on supplies of processed meat products via wholesalers, the advice must be to seek immediate reassurances from your suppliers about their food security, and if you are not satisfied with their answers switch to those that give you confidence. And, where appropriate, make a virtue of the ‘origin of
their species’.

For those that source and prepare their own meat from secure, local and trusted supply chains (and we have met many of those in the course of our National Pub Food Challenge judging), there is now a significant marketing opportunity to promote the provenance and quality of your dishes. Talk with passion and confidence about your suppliers, their animal husbandry and the care and attention with which you add value to their produce.

For the more adventurous and kitchen confident, there must also be a few million consumers out there wondering what premium horse meat actually tastes like. Can 65 million French consumers, 60 million Italians and 100,000 Tongans be so wrong?

The supermarkets have worked hard, to the detriment of pubs, to persuade customers to trade a good night out for a cheap night in. So they’ll have to forgive the pub industry for reminding those same customers that when they trade quality for price, something inevitably has to give. Pub food has come a long way in recent years.

Standards are consistently high across the vast majority of the country’s pub estate. It’s time to reinforce that message.

Related topics: Legislation