British meat image turned the corner
CONSUMER confidence in British meat is rising, according to Cumbrian sheep producer Jim Hadwin.
"Its been a tough time for livestock producers and recent weeks have brought things to a head. But I believe the meat issue has turned a significant corner and consumers are ready to give their whole-hearted support to British farmers," says Mr Hadwin, who meets consumers each day in his on-farm butchers shop near Kirkby Lonsdale.
Hes been coming face to face with the meat-eating public since 1993 when he and his wife Wendy started retailing their home-produced lamb under the Mansergh Hall Lamb label from their 100ha (250-acre) upland farm.
In the first year they sold 40 lambs between October and January. Now their flock of 1,100 ewes – soon to be increased to more than 1300 – is split into seven lambing times to produce a year-round supply of up to 30 lambs a week.
As well as a host of leading butchers the Hadwins list many of the regions most exclusive hotels and restaurants among their customers.
They include the Miller Howe at Windermere and the Sharrow Bay Hotel at Ullswater.
But its the regular callers to the new butchers shop at Mansergh Hall Farm that provide an invaluable insight into consumers feelings towards British meat.
"Consumers have been bombarded in the media with the BSE issue, E coli, the vegetarian lobby and concerns over animal welfare.
"But I believe confidence is building again. Consumers are saying enough is enough. However the industry must capitalise on this change of mood and waste no time in re-establishing their trust and support."
On the day of the bone-in-beef ban Mr Hadwin was receiving phone calls from customers asking if the ban also applied to lamb.
"We had customers who were prepared to make a special journey to stock-up on lamb joints. This confusion among consumers is born out of unclear messages from the media. Consumers have been blinded by sensational journalism covering up the true facts."
Mr Hadwins flock of North Country Cheviot x Texel ewes has now switched from FABBL to Freedom Foods assurance.
"We found consumers were confused by FABBL. They associate the RSPCA with Freedom Foods and although meeting these standards is tougher than FABBL, its a big boost to consumer confidence."
As well as lamb – all carcasses are stamped with the Mansergh Hall label – the Hadwins retail bought-in organic pork, corn-fed chicken, hams and gammons, game, geese, ducks and free-range turkeys.
"Across the selection of meats we sell the publics feelings are the same. Price is a not a major factor; a customer needs to feel she can trust a product and be assured of consistent quality.
"Confidence can be more readily re-kindled than many people think," says Mr Hadwin.
Although the fall in farm incomes is serious he thinks the NFU should have centred its public relations campaign on the meat issue.
Nevertheless he reckons the tide has turned. "Now its up to the industry to make sure that livestock farmers make the most of the patriotism of the British public."
Signs of improvement…Cumbrian sheep producer and butcher Jim Hadwin detects rising consumer confidence in British meat.