Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

€13m bonus as QA doubles, while ready meal sales plummet

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

FARMERS are set to reap a €13m windfall on the back of the horsemeat scandal.

It has emerged that all meat plants are to double the premium for quality assured (QA) stock in a bid to keep key buyers happy.

The move is worth an extra €21 on a 350kg carcase. There are over 600,000 in-spec QA heifers and steers killed through the export plants here every year. However, the shift to sourcing only QA stock will be a double-edged sword, with dairy farmers reporting increased difficulty getting cows killed that do not meet QA specifications. Industry sources suggest that there may now be pressure on meat processors to develop some type of QA scheme to cater for cows.

The fall-out from the horsemeat saga continues to be felt by the Irish food sector, with sales of ready meals plummeting by more than 35pc, according to Ireland's largest manufacturer of fresh ready meals.

Country Crest director Michael Hoey, who employs 80 people in a ready meal processing business, said he was appalled that nobody had been held accountable for what had happened.

"It's going to cost millions in advertising campaigns to win customers back to the types of products that we produce," said Mr Hoey.

"I don't buy this notion that people didn't know what was going into the machines. You know exactly what goes into every product. Eighty people down there (on the factory floor) would know if I switched one ingredient," he said. "You get what you pay for."

Mr Hoey also believes the supermarkets are not at fault here.

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"It's nonsense to blame the supermarket. If a supplier can't do it for the price that the buyer wants, there's one word – no."

Country Crest was selling 100,000 ready meals to major supermarket chains before the horsemeat contamination scandal broke. Sales of beef lasagne and cottage pie have plummeted by up to 60pc in the interim.

The business has undergone a series of extensive audits since the scandal emerged and the company has now implemented a DNA testing programme costing up to €6,000 a month. Mr Hoey added that the crisis had opened his eyes to the length of the meat supply chains that he was depending on.

"We've never used any imported meat here," claimed Mr Hoey. "But what do we say to customers to assure them that what we say is true? The credibility of the whole food business has been tarnished by this skulduggery."

Mr Hoey was also critical of Bord Bia's role in the horsemeat saga.

"They gave their branding in good faith to people to use but obviously didn't really understand what was going on. They came out of this weak."

Irish Independent